Fire Dept. Brownout Fears Are “Unnecessary Hysteria:” Nutter

As city begins brownouts to cut down overtime, union officials worry about residents' safety

Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter says the city would never put residents' lives at risk as officials implement a cash-saving plan to temporarily close fire companies.

The Philadelphia Fire Department began a new "brownout" measure Monday, which shuts down three fire companies per shift each day.

The companies affected change everyday, are spread across the city and would typically be taking part in training exercises or focusing on community outreach, officials say.

The brownouts will allow the fire department to save almost $3 million a year in overtime.

The Philadelphia Firefighters Union has been extremely vocal about the temporary shutdowns saying they will lead to slower response times and more deaths.

But Mayor Nutter says those fears are unwarranted calling it "unnecessary hysteria."

"This is a practice that the fire department has had for a long period of time," Mayor Nutter said Monday. "Neither I nor Fire Comm. Ayres nor the excellent firefighters we have would ever put the lives of Philadelphians in jeopardy."

Nutter says it it’s "an insult" to suggest that the fire department wouldn’t be able to cover the closed stations.

Engine 57 in West Philadelphia was one of the first three companies to close in the brownout plan.

Standing in protest outside the firehouse with off-duty firefighters and neighborhood residents, fire union president Bill Gault says there's no guarantee that the cuts won't hurt emergency response time.

"Our whole job is about response time and we can't guarantee that, nobody can right now," he said.

Like union reps, resident Miss Burke says she needs more assurance than just the word of officials that she'll be protected when she needs it most.

"That's like saying to the community, 'Oh pick your day to have a fire, make sure your electrical wires and everything are in place,'" she said.

The union plans to post large signs warning the community of the closures at each station while they are dark.

As cries of safety are made, the mayor suggested that the fight is more about money than anything else.

"This is about overtime," Mayor Nutter said. He went on to say the brownouts prevents the city from laying off firemen.

The city is looking to save $3.8 million in the fire department budget by the end of the year.

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