At Engine 57 at 5559 Chestnut St. in West Philadelphia - one of the first three stations affected - officials of Local 22 of the International Association of Fire Fighters denounced the "rolling brownouts." Bill Gault, president of Local 22, said city officials were being "deceitful" in claiming the action would not affect public safety.
In response, Mayor Nutter sought to reassure the public. "No one is being placed in jeopardy or danger," Nutter said. "This is a lot of unnecessary hysteria that is being drummed up."
Nutter last month balanced the city budget by cutting $47 million in spending. On Monday, he emphasized that no firefighters had been laid off. "Everyone is working," he said. "This is about overtime. That's all it's about."
Gault denied the union's opposition was prompted by the loss of overtime, the main source of the projected $3.8 million in savings. He said the department leaders created the overtime problem by not hiring more firefighters.
Fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers promised that his department "will continue to respond to your call and tend to any and every emergency that may arise in an urgent and timely manner."
In Chinatown, the cutbacks were not making sense to Bobby Prince, manager of Bike Line at 1028 Arch St., around the corner from a fire station where a ladder company was closed Monday night. For August, the two ladder companies in Center City will be closed on alternating nights. When Ladder 23 at 133 N. 10th St., is closed, the eastern half of Center City will be covered by Ladder 9 at 21st and Market Streets.
"It puts a lot of people in danger," Prince said. "Chinatown is open late at night. You never know what could happen."
Though seven companies were closed permanently last year, the city had the fewest fire deaths since the 1950s, when such records were first kept.
Of the Philadelphia department's 56 companies, 23 will be part of the rolling brownouts. The department has a 10-hour day shift and a 14-hour night tour, and three companies will be closed during each shift.
Ayers said that several factors were used to determine which fire companies to close and when: workload, the area covered, proximity to companies that were closed last year, the capability of surrounding companies to respond. Besides providing emergency services, fire stations engender a lot of goodwill in the community.
"They've been very nice to me," said Henrietta Vann, who lives across 38th Street from Engine 34 in North Philadelphia. On Monday, the engine company was closed for the day shift. Vann recalled how personnel from the fire station helped her adjust her heart monitor and rewrapped her once-broken wrist. "They look out for all of us," she said.
Flora Preston, 50, who lives a few houses away from the station, said she is diabetic and has seizures and relies on the fire station to respond quickly.
"If something happens on this block, they're right there, Johnny on the spot," she said.
Pressley, whose fiance lives near Engine 45, quipped about knowing every time the fire sirens go off at 3 a.m. She rolled her eyes, but then she amended her complaint.
"I know when they leave, they're going to help someone," she said. "I know when they come back, they've done their job."
Contact staff writer Robert Moran at 215-85405983 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Inquirer staff writers Miriam Hill and Peter Mucha contributed to this article.