HFD chief plans to trim millions from budget

November 17, 2010 5:28:47 PM PST
It's only been two months on the job for the new chief of the Houston Fire Department and he is already announcing a major overhaul. It's a plan that will eliminate positions and possibly increase response time during emergencies. But it could also save the city millions of dollars, as it deals with big financial troubles.

The layoffs are not massive by any means - four to six civilians in the Quarter Master's office and warehouse. But the job cuts do speak to a bigger problem facing Houston's new fire chief.

"We need to be more efficient and more effective and that's an area where we do need to some work," said Houston Fire Chief Terry Garrison.

Just two months after taking the job, Chief Garrison believes he's found a way to trim almost $8.5 million off his budget. Aside from eliminating the civilian jobs, he wants to redirect overtime meant for training non-cadets to fighting fires; he wants to reassign 40 firefighters who are in administration back to the streets; he wants to spread vacation days throughout the year; and the most controversial - consolidate seven two-man squads to begin what he calls a "Closest Unit Response."

"We're taking those two paramedics, we're putting them on a transport unit so they're going to respond and do the transportation," Chief Garrison said.

The chief recognizes that could mean a slower response time, so that's why he's ordered a trial period.

The Houston firefighters union says no matter how you look at it, the public should not expect the same service it has now.

"We're sort of in a situation where we've cut as much as we can cut. Anything we do past this, there's no question that it's going to have some effect on service delivery, it's going to have some effect on response time, and at the end of the day, it's going to have some effect on saving people's lives," said Jeff Caynon of the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association.

The city is hoping to recoup some money. On Wednesday City Council approved increasing ambulance fees from $400 to $1,000. That's more cost for residents, but the city says it's still cheaper than some cities in Texas.


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