HOUSTON – The Houston Fire Department has run into a budget crunch.
Nobody’s happy about it, but the fire chief figures the only way to solve the problem is to occasionally keep some of HFD’s trucks and paramedic units off the streets.
When Charlie Earthman bought his little monument making shop a few months ago, he noticed the fire station next door. However, his neighbor, Station 6, will be one of the first affected by the coming cuts with HFD.
“For me personally, I’m nervous that the day will come when we have a fire or we would need their help for an ambulance or something like that and they wouldn’t be available,” Earthman said.
Engine 6 is on the streets – for now.
HFD is also facing a staffing shortage. And with so many firefighters are taking days off, it’s burning up the overtime budget.
The fire chief plans to intermittently take some of his vehicles off the streets.
“I think it’s going to result in slower response times, which is potential people that are suffering from EMS calls are going to suffer a little bit longer, houses are going to burn, houses and buildings are going to burn a little bit longer,” HFD Chief Terry Garrison said.
Exactly how many fire trucks and paramedic units would sit idle will vary. However, every day between now and July they’re estimating at least 13 percent of fire trucks and 9 percent of paramedic vehicles will be out of service, cutting the number of firefighters on duty by 10 percent.
Still, city council’s in no mood to give the fire department more money.
“We have to stop kicking the can down the road and spending more money than we have. You can’t do it in your daily life, and you can’t do it in city life,” City Councilman Dave Martin said.
The chief complains the firefighters’ union contract allows many of them to take time off anytime they want.
Rank and file firefighters say the city just needs to manage its money better.
“Am I OK with cuts? I’m not OK with jeopardizing citizens or firefighters,” HFD Cpt. Jeff Joseph said.
But the cuts are expected to begin next month. The worst times will probably come in the peak vacation months of March and June.
On July 1, the city rolls into its next fiscal year and these so-called brownouts in fire department service should come to an end.