HFD's brownouts, budget debate continues

HOUSTON

Last weekend that response time went up to 8 minutes. So does a 30 second delay really compromise public safety? Well the mayor says no, citing the city has sidelined the same units before without being sued.

After the restraining order was denied, the mayor reminded Eyewitness News that the 7 ambulances browned out today were browned out in 2010.

"The union raised no concerns in 2010." the mayor said, "If we had the ability to make this move then, we have the ability to do it now."

But what the mayor's statement doesn't say it that the fire department is expected to 18,000 more calls this year than four years ago and do it with 113 fewer firefighters.

Talk all you want about numbers and budget philosophies, the bottom line on these brownouts is that when Valerie Davila needed an ambulance for her grand-daughter, she had to wait.

"She began to turn blue," she said.

Miranda swallowed part of a plastic fork Sunday night. She was choking and luckily she was right across the street from fire station 12.

Right away we said, the fire station -- they are right there.

But the ambulance she could see right there right in the garage couldn't move. It was and still is parked in a fight over $8 million in fire department overtime. Eight million dollars is four tenths of one percent of the City's of Houston's budget. The brownouts started Saturday morning, but the issue's been brewing for years.

"When's the last time you were fully staffed?" we asked.

"I've been in 15 years and we've never been fully staffed," said HFD Union President Bryan Sky-Eagle.

In Mayor Parker's first budget in 2011, the fire department had 3854 firefighters. Three years later, this year's budget shows 3,741 -- 113 fewer firefighters.

"The City of Houston has not hired enough firefighters," said Councilman C.O. Bradford.

Councilman Bradford isn't surprised by any of it. He says he saw it coming years ago but couldn't get more jobs added.

"It's completely unacceptable in this wonderful great City of Houston, Texas," he said.

None of this is new, the fire department has gone over budget every year for years but somehow their budget shows little growth. This year the mayor and council approved a million dollars less for the fire department than the mayor's first budget did three years ago.

"We gave them more money than they asked for," said Councilman Dave Martin.

Councilman Martin is the guy who wrote the rule that the mayor says she's now living by holding the fire department to the budget they said they could live with.

"The staffing issues at the fire department are real, that's causing the overtime issue. What we want them to do is come up with creative ways to do it," said Councilman Martin.

There's no sign of that. In fact the department says it will be forced to sideline 40 more firefighters on Thursday.

"The mayor needs to think about what she's doing, somebody is going to die and it's going to be on her hands," said Davila.

We want to know what you think about the brownout-budget debate. Join the conversation going on right now at the ABC13 Facebook page.

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