ELYRIA — A brief encounter between Elyria Mayor Bill Grace and roughly a dozen firefighters grew feisty Thursday afternoon as the firefighters picketed outside an Elyria church where Grace was hosting a political fundraiser. Grace was in a vehicle that was pulling into the church driveway when Elyria firefighter Dave Street — also firefighters’ union president — said he had a few words with him, mainly imploring him to raise the minimum staffing so that a sometimes closed fire station can be open daily.
Grace recently reduced the Fire Department’s minimum staffing from 17 to 14, resulting in sporadic shutdowns at Fire Station No. 2 on Broad Street. Firefighters have vociferously — and publicly — urged Grace to restore the staffing levels to 17.
Until Thursday, the firefighters had limited their picketing to the fire stations and City Hall. But with politicians heading to St. Jude on Poplar Street to support the mayor, the firefighters took their message there.
As for what the back-and-forth entailed? Neither Grace nor Street were willing to share precise details.
Firefighter Dean Marks, vice president of the firefighters union, said it was just a brief encounter between Grace and the firefighters.
“There were a few … passionate things that were said,” Marks said.
Grace spent much of the evening inside the church’s social hall, where about 150 or so people shelled out $10 a ticket for his political fundraiser.
Grace said one of the firefighters stepped in front of his vehicle as he was pulling into the church driveway, and the firefighter said “something ... about wishing to reopen the fire station.”
“I’d still expect our employees to handle themselves in a professional manner,” Grace said of the firefighters, calling the picketing and encounter “a lapse in judgment.”
Some residents joined the firefighters — picketing alongside them to show their support. Among them was Debbie Coon.
“We’re starting a petition drive, and we’re taking to the streets,” said Coon, who picketed with the firefighters from 4:45 p.m. to about 7 p.m.
The exchange wasn’t the only issue resulting from the picketing.
A driver cited for assured clear distance bumped into the car in front of him because he was reading the picket signs, he told police.
No one was injured.
In addition, Elyria police were called to the scene by an unidentified caller who said the dozen or so firefighters — and the residents who showed up to support them — were blocking access to the church’s driveways.
Police arrived and asked the firefighters not to block the driveways, and they complied.
Contact Shawn Foucher at 653-6255 or firstname.lastname@example.org.