COVENTRY, R.I. (WPRI) — Financial problems at the Coventry Fire District could be on the verge of becoming a major public safety issue as firefighters consider walking off the job rather than continue to work without pay.
Frank Palin, chairman of the fire district’s board, said all of the $118,000 they had on hand at the Coventry Credit Union was wiped out by the bank on Tuesday.
In an emergency hearing Wednesday morning, lawyers for the fire district and the firefighters union told a superior court judge they want the money back. Lawyers for the credit union argued it was a just move, as the district had $456,000 in debt owed to the bank.
Since the account was emptied, the fire union said one firefighter resigned, another retired, and a third plans to retire at the end of the week, bringing the total number of firefighters in the district down to 11.
“The firefighters have a very difficult decision of whether or not they can continue, whether or not they can afford to come to work tomorrow,” said Elizabeth Wiens, an attorney for the firefighters union.
The judge elected to wait one day to give the union time to discuss their course of action. He also ordered the district to alert the town of Coventry and the state that there could be a public safety emergency if the remaining firefighters walk.
“It really leaves a hole where there will be no public safety if these gentlemen decide they cannot afford to continue to work without pay,” Wiens added.
The firefighters union has set up a crowdsourcing fundraiser on GoFundMe.com to help the families of the firefighters who have been working for little or no pay.