Saturday, October 9, 2004

Cincinnati's 'brownouts' coming to an end Sunday


Fire station closings to save money end Sunday as staff tweak begins

By Jane Prendergast
Enquirer staff writer

Cincinnati's fire company "brownouts" will stop Sunday.

Fire Chief Robert Wright announced Friday that new staffing configurations will allow him to temporarily operate some fire companies with only three firefighters, one less than the minimum staffing levels the firefighters union fought for and won in 1998.

The three-firefighter companies will be deployed in 13 firehouses - the ones where another four-firefighter company also is working. During the brownouts, which started last month, the department idled ladder companies and engine companies at up to six firehouses every day.

That plan was to save some of the more than $2 million the department projected for a budget shortfall by the end of the year. The brownouts saved money by idling the companies instead of paying firefighters overtime to staff vacancies created by firefighters calling in sick, on vacation or otherwise unable to work.

Starting Sunday, firefighters in the 13 affected houses will switch from one piece of equipment to another, making sure neither operates with three people for more than six hours, said Councilman David Crowley. The six hours was set by a 1998 agreement with the firefighters union, which says Wright can operate with three for six hours "if necessary for ... effective operation.''

Any money needed to cover overtime costs under the new plan will come from the $125,000 given to the city this week by Cincinnati Reds owner Carl Lindner. The financier paid the money to relieve about half the $248,000 the city's still owed from last year's Tall Stacks event.

Crowley called Wright's staffing plan innovative. "The brownouts,'' he said, "are browned out.''

Union President Joe Diebold released a statement Friday praising Crowley and other city officials for their work to end the brownouts, which the union had said endangered the safety of Cincinnati's residents and firefighters.

"We understand that budget shortfalls have placed this city in a precarious situation,'' the statement said. "However, we intend to work with Mr. Crowley and the city to remedy the current situation of staffing some fire companies with three firefighters."

E-mail jprendergast@enquirer.com




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