Firefighters fighting worries after council reduces pay

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - By Jonathan Hardison

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - There's disappointing news for some Birmingham firefighters after the city council approved a measure reducing firefighter pay. Attorneys say firefighters have been overpaid since 2008. So today, the council voted to return their pay to pre-2008 levels.

Now, those firefighters' families are caught in the middle.

Even though this is directly affecting the paychecks and lives of firefighters, many of them don't want to be interviewed because they don't want to be seen causing trouble during a troubling time. But after today's vote, we were invited inside the of a Birmingham firefighter's home to see how they've gone from fighting fires to fighting finances.

Tuesday evening at 6:45pm we arrive to visit a fireman's wife, Lori Horsley. She had recently completed a 20-mile drive from Birmingham to her home and her 2nd full-time job of parenting 5 kids.

"It's busy. It's really, really busy, and really, really stressful, but they're worth it," Horsley said. "So you do what you have to do when there are people counting on you."

Horsley went back to work when her husband Michael began hearing months ago that his paycheck as a Birmingham firefighter might be cut because of accounting mistakes made by the city.

"He lost over $4 an hour. That's a lot of money per month," Horsley said. "The only way we have been able to stay afloat and be o.k. is me being able to find a job."

Even with a second income, there are still hungry mouths to feed and tough decisions to make.

"You have to get rid of the things that are not necessary first. That means gymnastics for the kids or activities or cable TV, Internet. If things start having to go, that's what's going to have to go."

Birmingham Mayor William Bell blames the pay adjustment on errors by the previous administration.

The city council claims it didn't know at the time that its budgets may have violated city policy. But in the Horsley household, there's no time for blame when any free moment is consumed by worry.

"He loves his job as a firefighter," Horsley said. "Everytime he leaves this house going on shift, I pray that I do not get a call in the middle of the night saying something has happened. I worry about that all the time. But now on top of that I have to worry about and figure out how we're going to deal with the pay cut they've given us, and worrying about taking care of the kids, taking care of our financial responsibilities."     

When Horsley talks about how her husband and his fellow firefighters feel now, some wonder if she's also speaking for the firefighter families.

"They feel forgotten, they feel unappreciated, and they don't understand what they have done to warrant the kind of treatment they feel they're getting."

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