Reporting Robbie Owens
FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM) - Firefighters in Fort Worth are turning to former chiefs to help convince city leaders that cost-cutting in their department would come with dangerous consequences. “Fort Worth has got an excellent plan, a very excellent plan,” said retired fire chief Larry McMillen, “and this is going to disrupt it.”
No firefighters are expected to lose their jobs. But the proposed budget calls for deactivating a firefighting company every day to trim costs. A company refers to a fire truck along with four firefighters to staff it. Fire stations within Loop 820 which operate more than one company will have one of them deactivated each day.
So, if a fire or emergency situation calls for more than one fire truck, one would need to come from a neighboring station. That, critics said, will surely increase response times.
“We’re playing with fire,” stated Lt. David Dodson with the Fort Worth Professional Firefighters Association. “All of the citizens of Fort Worth pay for the same fire protection, and to have a ‘brown out’ and randomly deactivate a company and force one community to bear more of a brunt than another community is just unfair to the citizens.”
At this point, only the fire stations located within Loop 820 would face company deactivations under the plan. The stations impacted would include those that protect Fort Worth’s downtown area, Texas Christian University, the hospital district and the Fort Worth Stockyards.
Dodson points to last week’s fire at The Lonesome Dove restaurant in the Fort Worth Stockyards as an example of the impact that response times can have on minimizing a fire’s damage. According to Dodson, firefighters responded to the blaze within just 47 seconds. “Because of their response time, we were able to reopen part of our restaurant,” said co-owner Emily Love. “We sustained only minimal damage to our main restaurant, and that just gets us that much closer to re-employing our 60 employees full time.”
Dodson was in the company that fought the restaurant fire, and said that a second company at the Fort Worth Stockyards station enabled them to make entry and knock down the flames before they could reach the crawl space, where it would have done much more extensive damage.
City leaders have even acknowledged that response times would increase under the proposed budget plan. But they insist that the increase will be less than a minute. Firefighters are much less certain and say, in a crisis situation, every second counts. “To the person that’s having a heart attack, or the business that has a fire, or a home that has a fire,” added McMillen, “those people that are impacted if it occurs in an area where that company is no longer there today.”
McMillen and several other former fire chiefs released a statement on Monday, calling for Fort Worth city leaders to reinstate funding to the fire department and to keep response times low. “We do not need to cut police, fire, code or trash,” said Jerry Harton, a longtime resident of Fort Worth’s Sycamore Heights neighborhood.
Harton suggested that city leaders cut out some City Hall offices. “We have people running over each other down there,” he said.
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