Philadelphia City Council put the administration’s new policy of rotating fire station closures on trial Tuesday.
The budget-cutting procedure referred to as “brownouts” saves the city $3.8 million a year in overtime costs. But firefighters and residents said it risks lives.
Last August, a 12-year-old autistic boy in West Philadelphia died when a fire started in his home and spread quickly down the block. A fire station just a block away was closed — not due to the brownout but because of equipment repairs. Still, the firefighters’ union is using the case to illustrate what they consider a dangerous policy.
Instead of the closer fire station responding, a station about five blocks away got the call.
Virginia DeShields’ neighboring home was damaged by the fire. DeShields says it took the fire company eight to 10 minutes to get to the scene.
“I said, ‘Oh my goodness.’ I called my daughter. The whole block is on fire. No fire department. Now, they say they came in three minutes, the policemen beat them there,” said DeShields. “I know if the policemen could get there in a minute or two, the fire department around the corner, they could have got there. That boy might have been saved — I don’t know.”
DeShields and her neighbors lambasted Mayor Nutter and the brownout policy.
But administration officials testified that the response time for the Aug. 7 fire took three minutes and 15 seconds.
Everett Gillison, deputy mayor for public safety, testified that without cuts to fire, police and prison budgets, the rest of city government would be decimated.
Deputy Mayor for Public Safety Everett Gillison said he’s stuck by his promise not to lay off any active police or fire employees. But he says the cuts have to come from somewhere.
“If public safety took no cuts, we would be decimating the rest of city government,” said Gillison. “Literally, there would not be a Commerce Department, there would not be an Economic Development Department.”