April 15, 2009 in City

City firefighter layoffs possible

Rescue response times could suffer, fire official says
By The Spokesman-Review
 
Christopher Anderson photo

Spokane firefighters, police and AMR crews respond to a multiple-car accident at Second and Sunset on Tuesday. Budget cuts next year could result in firefighter layoffs.
(Full-size photo)

Calls for fire service in Spokane have gone up, but the number of firefighters may be going down.

Layoffs are possible, officials told Fire Department employees Tuesday during the biannual State of the Department. It would take 15 positions to trim nearly $1.3 million from the department’s budget, they said.

City Administrator Ted Danek and Gavin Cooley, the city’s chief financial officer, were at the presentation to begin discussions of the city’s $5.5 million budget shortfall. City officials had the same type of brainstorming session with the Spokane Police Department.

“These discussions are to try to avoid cutting positions,” said Danek, adding he’s interested in hearing cost-saving ideas about daily operations from firefighters.

The last time the Fire Department had layoffs was in 2004, when 28 firefighters were cut, in part because the firefighters union refused to make any wage concessions, according to previous news reports.

The Fire Department has 301 firefighters, Local 29 President Greg Borg said.

Meanwhile, Spokane’s call volume went up nearly 5 percent, to 28,870 calls, from 2007 to 2008. The department’s response time lags behind the National Fire Protection Agency’s standard response time by 3 ½ minutes. The standard time is five minutes.

“We still are feeling the consequences of that reduction in the street, daily … in terms of response times, outcomes and the system’s overall performance,” Assistant Chief Brian Schaeffer said. “We are at a pivotal point right now where the deployment system is at its capacity.”

But with the impending budget cuts, layoffs may be unavoidable, Schaeffer said. Eighty percent of Fire Department’s costs are personnel.

“If they (the union) want to avoid layoffs, they are going to have to do something different with their cost-of-living increases,” Cooley said. The increases are 2 percent to 5 percent for next year, he added.

Borg said the union is just getting a grip on what’s going to happen.

“Our goal is to not have anybody laid off or take any cuts in pay,” he said.

Borg also acknowledged that the department is behind in response times. “We don’t have enough fire apparatus or stations to meet the national level. We don’t have enough personnel either,” he said. “And if they cut us again, that will make it even worse.”

Jody Lawrence-Turner can be reached at (509) 459-5593 or jodyl@spokesman.com.


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