Three former Fort Worth fire chiefs are warning that proposed budget cuts would increase response time. They hope to line up public support to reverse the cuts at budget hearings next month.
Last week, city council members agreed to restore about half of the nearly $4 million in fire department cuts – guaranteeing 12 firefighter positions, but eliminating 24 slots waiting to be filled.
Fire Chief Rudy Jackson says to deal with the permanent cuts he’ll take an average of two companies out of service each day. A company is a fire truck and its crew.
Rob Gibson with the Fort Worth Professional Firefighters Association says the deactivations, as they’re called, would affect nine fire stations inside Loop 820, the core of the city. Each station is home to two companies.
“If you live in downtown, or you own a business in downtown, in Meadowbrook, the hospital district or the TCU area, 22 percent of the time one of your trucks is going to be gone,” Gibson says.
He says that’ll increase response time by about a minute.
Former Fort Worth Fire Chief Larry McMillian, and former deputy Fort Worth chiefs Hugo Esparza and Eddie Burns say every minute counts in the race to save lives and property. And they say an increase in a city’s response time generally leads to higher insurance premiums for businesses and homeowners.
At last week’s budget workshop, Mayor Betsy Price says the city would likely come back and adjust things before premiums would go up. She says the remaining budget cuts to the fire department will have minimal impact on citizens.
Rob Gibson is optimistic those cuts will be taken off the table.
“I don’t think this is going to be very particularly popular with anyone," Gibson says. "It’s a common sense thing. It’s not hard.”
But it is difficult to fill a $50 million budget shortfall.
Council members hold two more budget hearings: September 10th and the 17th, right before the final budget vote.