City restructuring triggers at HFD

The fire union president fears it's the first step at separating EMS from HFD. The mayor says she has no intention of doing that
March 26, 2014 5:24:35 PM PDT
The Houston Fire Department is in the midst of a budget crisis and began implementing brownouts several weeks ago. With those brownouts, fire trucks are pulled out of service and firefighters take time off.

There were no brownouts during Tuesday's five-alarm fire at a Montrose-area apartment complex, but tension between the city and its firefighters remain high.

The recent brownouts and budget shortfalls have only increased tensions between city officials and the firefighters. The latest? Is Mayor Parker looking at separating paramedics from firefighters?

Five alarms, 200 firefighters and one daring rescue. A day later, there are perhaps none more deserving of praise than the Houston Fire Department.

"We have one of the best fire departments in the United States," Mayor Parker said.

But beneath a well-fought fire, embers of tension between the mayor's office and the firefighters union continue to smolder.

Mayor Parker just reorganized her executive staff. For the first time in recent memory, the city's longtime medical directorm, Dr. David Persse, and Fire Chief Terry Garrison will report to two different city managers. The union's worried.

"I understand the mayor's position. This is just reorganization," fire union president Bryan Sky-Eagle said. "But this is unprecedented. And I think you guys raise a good question. Is it more efficient? No, it's not more efficient. Why would you split EMS and reporting requirements? Where's the logic in that."

Sky-Eagle says he believes the reorganization could be the first step in privatizing or hiring civilian paramedics to save money. Mayor Parker strongly denies that.

"I am not interested in splitting fire and EMS, nor am I interested in privatizing EMS services in the city of Houston. Put a period at the end of that sentence," she said.

A series of issues have heightened tensions between firefighters and the mayor. They include the $8.5 million overtime shortfall that led to sporadic brownouts, and there is ongoing contract negotiations. Despite that, Garrison says under his watch, there will be no privatization.

"I am absolutely against privatization," he said.

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