A Facebook group dedicated to stopping the closure of an Erie fire company has swelled to more than 3,000 members.
Jeff Hawryliw, a volunteer firefighter with Fairfield Hose Co. in Harborcreek Township, said he is surprised by the growth of the group he started just three days ago in response to Erie Mayor Joe Sinnott's plans to close a city fire company.
"I never expected it would go this far," Hawryliw said Thursday. "This is great. This is awesome. It shows there's support out there. ... It shows that the citizens of Erie, whether it be city residents or county residents that posted on there, have a great deal of concern for their safety and respect for the firefighters."
Hawryliw lives in Harborcreek and acknowledges that he wouldn't be directly affected by a company closure in the city. He wants to help city firefighters, he said, because he's concerned that their safety and the safety of citizens would be jeopardized if a company closes.
"Whether you're paid or you're volunteer, when our brothers and sisters are in trouble, it doesn't matter where you're from," Hawryliw said.
The Facebook group, called "Against Closing a Fire House in the City of Erie," had 3,071 members as of 5 p.m. Thursday.
"That is crazy to close any of the fire depts!!!" one member wrote in part. "The city should consider pay cuts across the board to save these jobs!!! They are not just jobs ... they save lives every single day!"
Another member wrote, "It seems like there are places, things and people that could be cut back on long before the city needs to lose a vital asset. There can be a little from here, from there and add it up to save a station. I believe the station that will be lost, will be in a poor part of town."
Sinnott announced Monday that he would close one of the city's six fire companies in light of a court ruling ordering the city to comply with an arbitrator's award that calls for staffing changes in the Erie Bureau of Fire.
He said the staffing mandates would require the city to hire as many as 24 new firefighters at a cost of $1.7 million in one year alone, without the closure. Lawyers for the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 293 have disputed those numbers and maintain that the city could fulfill the new mandates at current staffing levels.
Sinnott has not yet said which company will close.
Sinnott said Thursday that he would prefer not to close any company, and that he understands the concerns about safety, coverage and response time expressed online by the members of the Facebook group.
"That's why we're working so hard to make sure we don't compromise those things" in creating a plan for which company will close, Sinnott said.
ERICA ERWIN can be reached at 870-1846 or by e-mail.