Houston firefighters put their lives on the line each and every day. Next week, more than 200 of them could be out of a job as the city works to close a $75 million budget gap.
"You're going to have longer response times and less quality to the care and it's going to be more dangerous to the public in general," said one firefighter who wanted to conceal his identity.
While it might sound like a scare tactic, what he says only reinforces what Houston's fire chief told city leaders back in March. He warned them about the potential for big problems to emergency services if jobs were lost, saying, "Fewer personnel and EMS units responding increases EMS response time, which directly impacts survivability of individuals experiencing medical emergencies."
"I'm working on it," Houston Mayor Annise Parker said. "We're working on it together. Public safety is my number one priority. They had the smallest budget target and we're just trying to reduce that even as we speak."
The Houston Firefighters Association has been in contract negotiations with the city since January. The organization's president says he'd be willing to make certain concessions in order to avoid layoffs.
"We can't continue to deliver the kind of service we deliver right now if we have the kind of severe cut that they are talking about," said Houston Firefighters Union President Jeff Caynon.
More than 200 Houston firefighters have been asked to attend meetings about possible layoffs scheduled for next week. By law, the city has to give a minimum of 45 days notice to those employees. Since the budget has to be passed by June 30, that deadline is fast approaching.
Below is information from the Houston Fire Department's core service assessment presentation given to the city on March 24
CORE SERVICE: SUPRESSION
DESCRIPTION: 24 hour, 365 day continuous firefighting and first responder emergency medical service provided through 92 fire stations strategically located throughout the city and daily on-duty staff of 796 firefighters; Insurance Services Office Public Protection Classification 1 Rating
IMPACT IN REDUCED/ELIMINATED: Fewer personnel & apparatus responding; increased fire incident response time that could lead to greater risk & loss to both public and responding personnel; increased first responder incident time leading to morbidity & mortality; an increase in both civilian and firefighter injuries; increased fire insurance premiums
CORE SERVICE: SPECIAL OPERATIONS
DESCRIPTION: Units specially trained to respond to hazardous materials incidents, aircraft rescue incidents, extrication, swift water, confined space, trench cave-ins and WMD/terrorism threats
IMPACT: The special nature of these incidents poses above average risk and consequently can result in large losses of life, property value and productivity.
CORE SERVICE: EMERGENCY MEDICAL SERVICES
DESCRIPTION: Provide immediate treatment to those in need of urgent medical care; transport to appropriate medical facility
IMPACT: Fewer personnel and EMS units responding increases EMS response time which directly impacts survivability of individuals experiencing medical emergencies.
CORE SERVICE: PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT/TRAINING
DESCRIPTION: Prepare new recruits to be entry level firefighters according to state established standards; maintain veteran firefighter state mandated skills and certifications through continuing education and live skills evolutions and training
IMPACT: Reduction in quality of training necessary to maintain Texas Commission on Fire Protection certifications; annual attrition without personnel replacement increases overtime costs; FY2011 new hires total of 95; 771 firefighters have 25+ years of service. Attrition in FY 2011 projected at 147 FF and in FY 2012 160 FF.
CORE SERVICE: OFFICE OF EMERGENCY COMMUNICATION
DESCRIPTION: 24 hour, 365 day emergency dispatch; gather information, determine and dispatch appropriate personnel and apparatus; maintain all Fire/EMS Records; inspect/test fire hydrants; EMS average call processing time 101 seconds, Fire average call processing time 114 seconds
IMPACT: Negative impact on fire and emergency medical services provided; increased call processing time leading to delays in overall emergency response time that will increase the life safety risk to the public; additional hazards and life safety risks for responding personnel