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Fire Department brownouts looming

Submitted by on 1, January 6, 2009 – 9:00 amNo Comment

The Fire Department is set to begin rotating fire truck and ambulance brownouts at the end of January, unless the city finds another $377,000 to pay overtime costs through the end of June or more to hire a few additional firefighters.

In a report to be discussed by the City Council at its meeting tonight at City Hall, Fire Chief David Kapler said reducing fire staff from 27 to 24 staffers per shift, while difficult, is “a reasonable measure to implement without causing significant adverse impact to service delivery for the majority of Fire Department emergency responses.”

Still, Kapler said the staffing reduction could slow response times to some fire calls and to about 5 percent of the medical calls the department receives, with many of those for critical health emergencies including heart attacks. Last year, the department got 4,218 medical calls; all three of its ambulance companies were working simultaneously for 240 of those calls, 100 of them critical.

The department’s average response time for 90 percent of its calls last year was around four minutes, which meets a national standard, the report says.

Other options to reducing overtime staffing include pulling money from the general fund, using money set aside for a fire station improvement project or hiring additional firefighters, which would cost about $53,000 more the first year the firefighters were hired but would save an estimated $21,280 annually after that, based on salaries of $130,000 and payments into a retirement plan.

The department’s overtime budget for this year was just over $1 million.

The firefighters union opposes the cuts, saying they could jeopardize people’s safety. They are in the midst of a vigorous campaign to stop the brownouts.

The council is not slated to make any decisions based on the report.

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