Union offers brownout update
Updated at 2:23 p.m.
Before we get to far away from Tuesday/Wednesday’s council meeting, let me tell you about the presentation the head of the local firefighters union, Domenick Weaver, gave on the fire company brownouts that began on January 26.
Weaver told the council that brownouts of either a truck company at the city’s West End station or an ambulance on Bay Farm Island have occurred in eight of the nine days the brownout policy had been in effect. He said the brownouts delayed responses for 13 calls by between two and six minutes.
The calls that faced delays included some routine medical calls and a fire alarm call that came when a fire sprinkler went off. And although none of the calls involved a life-threatening situation, Weaver told me he thinks it’s only a matter of time before that happens.
“The term ‘Russian Roulette’ has been used, and I feel it is an accurate description of what is going on,” Weaver told me.
Responding to an e-mail for comment, Fire Chief David Kapler said:
During the first week of brownouts, we responded to 118 emergency incidents with no major impacts. Of these 118 incidents, nine incidents had a somewhat longer ambulance response time, generally two to three minutes. However, for eight of the nine incidents, a fire engine with a paramedic and three personnel was on scene in well under four minutes. All but one of these ambulance responses was under eight minutes.
Other than EMS incidents, there were four emergency calls involving a browned out truck company. In each case, the first unit was on scene in under four minutes and a full complement of personnel and equipment arrived within the recommended eight minutes.
Kapler said that no more than one of the Island’s 10 fire department companies is browned out at any time. But Weaver said that during shift changes, additional companies go dark while staff is shuffled from browned-out stations to other stations that are short firefighters.
The brownouts were implemented to conserve what’s left of the fire department’s overtime budget, though Weaver has argued that the overtime money has been used as a replacement for staff positions that were frozen. The department’s overtime budget is just over $1 million this year.
Kapler has told the council that he doesn’t think the cuts will have a “significant adverse impact” on service delivery, though he did say the cuts could slow response times to some fire and medical calls.