Are fire dept. brownouts compromising safety?

RHAWNHURST - August 2, 2010

The brownouts are either a mistake that is bound to endanger lives or critics are using scare tactics without merit. It all depends on who you talk to.

Across the city Monday, 3 fire engines and 1 ladder company sat silent as the mayor's administration, struggling with an economic crisis, tries to save nearly $4-million.

"This is a standard practice in fire companies across the United States of America. It's one of the things that fire departments do, this is not new," explained Mayor Michael Nutter.

But the union representing firefighters and paramedics warns that the rolling brownouts will endanger the lives of personnel and citizens.

"The mayor's latest proposal is rolling brownouts taking affect today is dangerous, it's mistaken and it's undertaken without any regard to its impact," said Bill Gault, President Local 22 Firefighters' Union.

By City Council District, Councilwoman Joan Krajewski leads the pack with 67 brownouts scheduled this month. But that's largely due to the fact that the engine 38 fire house has been demolished to make way for a new one two years from now. Its personnel & equipment has been moved to Engine 33, 3 and half miles away. The Union argues that getting to a fire or medical emergency is critical in saving lives and the brownouts it claims means people will have to wait longer to get help:

"It's time to stop using the fire stations as the city's ATM machines, Nutter needs cash for another problem, he closes a fire station. It's unsafe for us and it's unsafe for all the citizens," said Gault.

But the mayor disagrees:

"This is a lot of unnecessary hysteria that's being drummed up for reasons that have nothing to do with fire service whatsoever."

But the union has some council members concerned who vow to look into the matter.

"We're afraid, I'm afraid what happens if during rotation you have a fire what happens, what happens then, I think something's need to be exempt from cuts and this is one of them," said Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell.

City council is not due to go back in session until mid-September. In the meantime, the brownouts will continue unabated as the Nutter administration tries to navigate through hard economic times.

For more information, click these links:
Philadelphia Fire Department Memorandum

Local 22 of the Fire Fighters Union to the Philadelphia City Council

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