Union: Proposed Ill. fire department budget cuts are safety risk

Union leaders said cutting a fire truck and 11 firefighters would compromise the safety of both residents and firefighters

Andy Kravetz
The Journal Star

PEORIA, IL — The Peoria Fire Department could be down a truck and 11 firefighters as a way to ease the city's budget woes.

Union leaders say that would compromise the safety of both residents within the River City and the 195 firefighters employed by the city. Instead of cutting, Ryan Brady, the head of the local union, wants the city to maintain the status quo: no additional money but no permanent cuts.

"We are already at the bone. We are now talking about the safety of firefighters and safety of the community," he said, adding this isn't a scare tactic. The department will find a way, he said, but argued fewer trucks on the road and fewer firefighters could have an effect given fatigue and response times.

City Hall has to fill an $8 million deficit and has asked all departments to share in the pain. The Police and Fire departments are looking at 5 percent cuts. Administrative departments are looking at 10 percent cuts to get the budget balanced, said City Manager Patrick Urich.

He will present a proposal Tuesday to the City Council that would call for the retirement of Ladder Truck 14 and Rescue 2 as a cost-cutting measure. The department's 11 vacancies would not be filled, meaning that no layoffs would occur. Replacing Rescue 2 would be Engine 11, a firetruck that has the ability to pump water from a hydrant. Swapping that engine with Rescue 2 would give the middle swath of a the city another truck that has water, he said.

The new engine as well as Ladder Truck 3 will go to House 11, on Florence Avenue. This would then start a cascading effect of moving two ladder trucks, Ladder 3 and 4, both in the southern half of the city, up a few blocks so the northern portions are covered.

Additionally, Truck 14 would be in "reserve" at Station 15 on Detweiller Avenue, which means it could be used, if necessary.

There are other proposals: Reducing the number of firefighters on the rescue trucks from three to two. Or cutting a floating position from each shift. That, Urich said, would allow the department to keep the same number of trucks on the street while keeping the vacancies unfilled.

Fire Chief Chuck Lauss said he worries about the fatigue factor given the high number of calls answered by the department. Brady said the Peoria department ran 19,552 calls last year compared to the Springfield department's 17,641. There were 585 structure fires last year as opposed to Springfield's 507. Yet Springfield has at least 20 more firefighters on the job.

Brady says the budget holes of the city shouldn't be filled at the expense of the Fire Department. Urich, however, noted that over the past 10 years or so, more than 100 jobs have been eliminated from the city. Only a few came from the Fire Department, he said.

To Brady, it's "what vs. need." Public safety, he said, should be at the forefront. Lauss agrees saying that cutting a ladder truck, or any truck for that matter, creates a "hole" in the city somewhere that has to be filled in by other fire houses. That increases response time. A fire can double every 60 seconds, Brady said. In a medical situation, every second counts.

The council will vote Tuesday on the proposal budget for 2018.

Copyright 2017 The Journal Star

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