Motorists traveling through downtown Fort Walton Beach mid-day Monday were greeted by firefighters waving posters at a corner often occupied by panhandlers.
The firefighters were at the corner of Perry Avenue and U.S. Highway 98 to alert the public to budget cuts proposed by the city of Fort Walton Beach.
The City Council is holding a special meeting on the budget today at 5 p.m.
Among the proposed cuts is the elimination of three battalion chief positions from the Fort Walton Beach Fire Department, a move strongly opposed by the Fort Walton Beach Professional Firefighters Association.
Firefighters say that cutting the battalion chiefs would affect the safety of fire crews at scenes and the public’s safety as well.
“The battalion chiefs are the coach of the whole operation,” said Larry DiAmco, president of the union. “When we get on scene, I’m a captain, I’m on a truck. When the battalion chief arrives, he gives me a play.
“He’s the one calling the shots. Without that battalion chief, we are greatly at risk.”
The city is experiencing a $1.7 million shortfall and is looking at a number of ways to close the gap.
Other proposals include cutting funding to the chamber and other groups, cutting funding to the tennis center and BMX park, and eliminating five public works department positions by contracting with the Department of Corrections. Also on the table are reducing hours for local recreation centers and the library.
The firefighters wore their helmets to attract attention, and passing motorists honked to show support. Diana Aho, who works at a downtown Realty office, pulled over to find out more.
“I wanted to find out what’s going on,” she said.
After firefighter D.J. Stone explained the reason they were there, Aho said she agreed with them.
“I don’t think we need to cut firefighters here,” she said. “There are a lot of people on the top that need their salaries cut.”