Four months ago, Gary, Ind., firefighter Dave Herman was awarded the prestigious "Best of the Best" award from the mayor's office. This week, that same office gave him something else: a layoff notice.
Herman is one of 31 firefighters that will lose their jobs due to budget constraints.
The cuts will leave the city with 201 firefighters who are responsible for protecting the 56 square miles that make up the municipality.
Five years ago, Gary employed 280 firefighters.
"The people of Gary are already dealing with poverty, high unemployment, and now we are taking away their safety," said firefighter Union President Raynard Robinson, who fears the cutbacks will simply spread the department too thin.
Robinson said the union agreed to give up clothing allowances and pay higher insurance rates, but the concessions were not enough. He added that many firefighters already have part-time jobs since they haven't seen raises in five years.
Most of the laid-off firefighters are some of the youngest members of the department, which is a shame, Robinson said.
"After 20 years on the job, my knees aren't what they used to be," he said. "I'm not going to be able to outwork a 28-year-old. After the cuts, the department's average age will be 40."
Another firefighter, Eric Acevedo, has been with the department for five years and just learned he will also lose his job.
"In the middle of the bad economy, I will be scrambling to support my family," said Acevedo, who has a 1-year-old child at home.
Attempts to seek comments from Mayor Rudy Clay's office has not been successful.