Fire Dept. starts 'rolling brownouts' next week

$3.8M in OT savings

Posted: July 27, 2010

The Fire Department will begin "rolling brownouts" of fire companies starting Monday as it cuts down on overtime costs.

Fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers outlined the plan - which is expected to save $3.8 million - to firefighters and reporters last night.

Ayers and Everett Gillison, deputy mayor for public safety, repeatedly said that the brownouts would not affect safety, and had to do with managing the department more efficiently.

The short version of the plan goes something like this: Almost every day of the week, Ayers said, five companies are closed while firefighters are sent to the fire academy for training.

As of next week, five companies will still close daily, but the firefighters from three of those companies won't go to training.

Instead, they will fill in for firefighters who are out sick or on vacation - slots that are normally filled through overtime.

"That's where we'll find our savings for the year," Ayers said.

Ayers said that the city is considering alternative ways for those firefighters to train, such as relying on Web-based training programs.

The commissioner noted that not every fire company will be affected by the rolling brownouts. Those that will be were selected based on factors such as the size of the company and the number of fire and emergency calls it responds to, he said.

The department also plans to shut Northeast Philadelphia's Engine 38 for up to two years, Gillison said earlier in the day.

That company had been located on Longshore Avenue, near State Road, but has been moved among other sites since the firehouse was demolished as part of the I-95 expansion. Gillison said that Engine 38 will restart when the new firehouse is built, which could take up to two years.

Bill Gault, president of the International Association of Fire Firefighters Local 22, could not be reached for comment. Previously, he described the rolling brownouts as "playing Russian roulette."

"We have done nothing to compromise public safety," Gillison said. "I know that you've always heard that if we do anything differently, there's a compromise in safety. Well, that's wrong."

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