Tuesday Mar 17 2009
Firefighters get burned by cost-cutting plan
By: Penne Usher, Special to the Telegraph
Union takes out ad in local newspaper
Tightening of the fiscal belt in Folsom is forcing the Fire Department to essentially shut down one of its engines — and some fear that could put the public’s safety in jeopardy. Engine 35, housed at the department’s main station on Glenn Drive, will be placed on “brown out” status in the hopes of saving the city hundreds of thousands of dollars. Chief Dan Haverty, of the Folsom Fire Department, said something in the city had to give. He assures residents they will have competent and complete emergency service coverage, but response times will increase slightly. “We aren’t closing it 100 percent, but response time will still be impacted,” Haverty said. The current average time for crews to get to a call is 6 minutes, 13 seconds — the national goal is six minutes or less, according to the National Fire Protection Association. “We are still going to meet the emergency response needs for this city,” Haverty said. The single engine will be reduced in staffing on a part-time basis, which Haverty anticipates will be 50-percent or less throughout the year. Currently the department is in a “constant staffing model,” meaning that there are enough fire personnel to cover every spot on an engine or medical unit each day, however, there are no back up personnel. Haverty said that when someone is out sick, on vacation or jury duty for that matter, a replacement firefighter must be called in and that equates to overtime dollars. The Sacramento Area Firefighters Union Local 522 sees the brown out as a serious issue and went so far as to place a half-page ad in the Telegraph expressing its concern. The ad read in part, “Don’t let Folsom politicians compromise our safety. Tell them to stop playing politics with your safety.” “They are expressing what they believe is the right thing to do from their perspective,” Haverty said. “I respect their desire to do so.” Dave Tambor, a Folsom firefighter and district director of Local 522, which covers the Folsom area, said the Union does not back the city’s decision to brown out the engine. “We have large holes in the city of Folsom,” Tambor said. “The union’s position is to absolutely not brown out.” He expressed concern that the response time could reach eight minutes. “It will affect public safety,” Tambor said. “They are putting the citizens at risk.” The city had to make up for an $8.6 million deficit and asked each department to cut expenses. “What we did was say, ‘Here’s your number, what are you going to do to meet that number?’” said Mayor Steve Miklos. “Haverty said he could do it by browning out an engine.” The bottom line is that the Fire Department was able to cut $1.1 million in overtime costs. As for the ad placed by Local 522, Miklos called it “unprofessional.” “No firefighter had to take a cut,” he said. “The ad is wholly unprofessional and not appreciated by the community. We’ve heard from the community and they are fully supportive of what we are doing.” Penne Usher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.