HFD budget crunch hits home for residents


We've been following the budget fight for a few days now. One of the solutions is brownouts. They started this weekend. The concern was that they would affect response time for emergencies.

Angela Adams is visiting her ailing mother at Courtyard Convalescent Center.

"A matter of minutes means a lot," Adams said. "She's high risk for strokes, heart attack."

The nursing home houses mainly elderly patients with severe illnesses. On Saturday they called 911 twice, but the closest medic unit two miles away, did not come.

Medic 36 and six other ambulances across Houston are out of service since Saturday morning because the fire department has to tighten its budget.

"What we're starting to see is, since they've been put out of service, we can see the backfill starting to take place," said Bryan Sky-Eagle, president of Houston Professional Firefighters. "Now these ambulances are being pulled from other neighborhoods, and so that starts a chain reaction."

The union says on average the Houston Fire Department gets 1,000 calls every day. They're short 500 firefighters and now seven units are out of commission. What's left when you call for help? There are 87 suppression engines, 37 suppression ladders, 51 ambulances, 35 medic units and 11 squads for the entire city of Houston.

"We are chronically under staffed," Sky-Eagle said.

More cuts are coming. Last week, HFD Chief Terry Garrison laid out for city council these additional cutbacks to services -- dozens more fire engines, ambulances and squads will go out of service in a matter of weeks.

"As the financial belt gets tighter, more units will be put out of service," Sky-Eagle said. "There will be people who won't make it."

For Adams, it's an unacceptable reality that the city needs to fix.

She said, "A call to 911 means emergency so my expectation is that an ambulance gets here in a timely manner -- quickly."

We've asked the fire department for an average response time, this weekend versus last weekend. They say they'll get back to us. At the nursing home, at least one patient told me they had to wait 15 minutes.

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