Fire rescue units immobilized by budget cuts
MIAMI LAKES, Fla. (WSVN) -- In order to save money, Miami-Dade fire stations will be forced to go out of service Monday. Firefighters say these cuts may affect emergency response times across the county.
Budget cuts have forced five Miami-Dade firehouses to cease operations for one day. A total of 11 units were temporarily shut down for several hours.
"That number is going to be flexible, unfortunately, as people have scheduled leave," said Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Chief Louie Fernandez. "It is the summertime, and [there will be] additional sick call-ins. That number will vary."
The move, called a brown out, is meant to reduce overtime expenses. It's a compromise after county commissioners voted last week to keep the property tax rate flat, as recommended by County Mayor Carlos Gimenez. This means the department would not see millions in additional funding and more than 140 firefighters could lose their jobs.
The fire department, county officials and members of the Miami Association of Firefighters are at odds as to what caused the shutdown. Union leaders said the move is a measure by county commissioners to save money for next year as a result of last week's property tax vote. County administrators insisted the measure is unrelated, since the savings cannot be rolled over from one year to the next.
Miami-Dade County resident Michael Rosenberg said, "I strongly urge everyone that is watching this to call the mayor's office and tell them to open the fire stations, honor the votes."
"I saw that on the news last night," said Suzanne Dalton. a Miami Lakes resident who lives a few blocks away from one of the stations that were out of service for the entire day. "I don' know how far away the next one would be, but it is concerning."
Rowan Taylor, president at Local 1403 Union, said, "Right now, as we're speaking, there is absolutely no fire or emergency for this entire area. Everyone in this area is going to have to wait an additional four to five minutes. If they're having a heart attack right now, if any of these homes right here catch on fire right now, they're going top have to wait an extended time."
Miami Lakes resident Sean Leonardo said he is certain the shutdowns have valid long-term purposes. "It's probably not the best thing, but I'm sure that they have their reasoning," he said.
Personnel scheduled to work at the out-of-service units were reassigned to stations where extra help is needed to cover shifts.
As a result, areas affected may see longer response times. "I don't believe anyone ever thought we would get to this point," said Taylor. "That we're shutting down fire service and putting the public in danger."
As Miami-Dade Fire Rescue fights for more funds, these brown outs could continue for months to come.
Officials hope this move could save the jobs of firefighters that might otherwise come under the ax when the budget year starts in September.
A fire house will only be temporarily shut down if there is only one unit in house. Because of an agreement the union has with the department and the county, no unit can be out of service for more than 36 hours by the end of 2013.
These are the units affected at different Miami-Dade Fire Rescue stations:
Rescue 6 / Homestead - Closed 12 hours
Tanker 62 / South - Closed 24 hours
Aerial 29 / Sweetwater - Closed 12 hours
Engine 35 / Miami Springs - Closed for 24 hours
Rescue 69 / Doral - Closed 12 hours (5 p.m.)
Engine 30 / Miami Shores - Closed 24 hours
Engine 51 / Honeyhill - Closed 24 hours
Rescue 10 / Sunny Isles - Closed 24 hours
Rescue 32 / Near Jackson North - Closed for 12 hours
Engine 56 / West Sunset - Closed for 24 hours
Engine 64 / Miami Lakes - Closed for 24 hours (entire station was temporarily shut down)
All units that were closed Monday are scheduled to reopen Tuesday at 7 a.m.
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