It was a scene reminiscent of “running the gauntlet” on voting day, though there were no competing parties or candidates this time around.
The front entrance to the Derry Municipal Center was lined with sign-carrying, button-wearing supporters of Derry’s Police and Fire departments. Both departments were facing cuts under the Town Council’s aggressive position against tax increases, and department members turned out with their families to urge that services be kept.
Cassie McNelly, a dispatcher with Derry Fire, brought her daughter Ryleigh, 7, for her first civic involvement. As Ryleigh held a sign, McNelly said the police and fire personnel came out to the May 19 Town Council meeting because “we want to help each other out. We want the Councilors to do what’s best for the town.”
Greg Laro, vice-president of the Firefighters’ Local, was there with his wife, Ashley, and daughters Abby, 5, and Sam, 2. Laro said the grassroots protest was not organized by the Fire Department, though when firefighters heard of it, they came on board. “We were invited by the community to participate,” Laro said.
Helen Evans, a retired teacher, stood among the emergency responders and said, “I love Derry. I love the fact that we have such fine police, fire, Public Works and libraries.” Evans has been doing her own research and learned “how thorough they are, every day, and not just in budget times.”
Councilor Phyllis Katsakiores, who has advocated for police and fire during the budget process, arrived and was greeted like a rock star. She worked the crowd, hugging and posing for photos. Fellow Councilor Joshua Bourdon walked the line, shaking hands.
Firefighter Matt Evans estimated that the crowd grew through social media.
“We found out about it on Facebook,” Fire Local president Ron Sebastian said. “The event was organized by the community, and we organized our people to come.”
Sebastian estimated there were about 150 people showing their support outside the building.