Update on the firefighter situation in El Mirage

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EL MIRAGE, Ariz. -- Public safety versus politics. Six El Mirage firefighters lost their jobs and the public wants to know why.

Once the angry public weighed in, the city manager came under quite a bit or pressure to re-hire the firefighters.

"Is it going to take a tragedy to occur before you realize the importance of our fire department?" asked one concerned citizen at a public meeting. "It seems to me, politics is getting in the way of public safety."

3 On Your Side had been asking similar questions for weeks. Was the firing of six El Mirage firefighters -- 20 percent of the department -- really about budget cuts? Or was there something else going on?

"We were right in the middle of the negotiation process," said Tom Jury, president of the Firefighters Association back in August. "We actually requested a federal mediator. A few days later, six of our guys were laid off."

Jury showed 3 On Your Side documents that he said proves firefighters were willing to agree to everything the city was demanding, including a pay freeze.

According to the Firefighters Association, City Manager B.J. Cornwall pulled the plug on those negotiations without any warning. Cornwall denies that. He said he did what he had to do because of budget cuts.

Once the story made the news, residents in El Mirage started to sound off. They weren't happy about what had happened and wanted to know if their safety was being compromised.

This week, residents packed the city council meeting and Cornwall found himself coming under fire.

"What they just did in this city is a shame," one resident said.

"Has politics gotten in the way of this? Absolutely. That is apparent," said Mayor Michele Kern at that same meeting.

Kern said the number of firefighters needed to keep residents safe depends on the population. According to her, the issue is that they are not sure how many people actually live in El Mirage. According to the city's website, more than 40,000 call El Mirage home. That's why voters approved a second fire station back in 2008. The six firefighters who were let go were supposed to work at that station.

Cornwall denied 3 on Your Side's requests for an interview. In previous correspondence, he said he tried to negotiate with firefighters, but the layoffs were necessary.

In the end, the city council pressured Cornwall to reverse his decision.

"It's a shame that it happened," said Vice Mayor David Shapera . "It didn't need to happen at all."

The jobs at the center of the controversy are tied into federal grant money. When the jobs go, so do the dollars.

Cornwall has not yet made a decision. While the city council can and did make a recommendation, it's ultimately up to him.

"At this point in time, I am doing my due diligence concerning this matter and have not made a decision," Cornwall said in an e-mail to 3 On Your Side.