City officials aren’t publicizing which of Springfield’s fire stations are being temporarily closed because we don’t want to needlessly worry the public, city spokesman Ernie Slottag said Monday. But Springfield firefighters are getting the word out instead.
Stations are being closed for about a week at a time on a rotating basis because of the city’s budget squeeze and ensuing firefighter layoffs.
“We still feel we have the best firefighters in the country,” Slottag said. “When they’re called, they do their job well.”
Under normal circumstances, Slottag said, a fire station can be left unmanned when firefighters are responding to a fire elsewhere.
“If they’re out on a call and there’s a fire nearby, the next closest unit will go by,” he said. “Frequently the buildings are vacant because they’re out on a call already.”
In the absence of city government reports on station closures, Tony Burton, president of Springfield Fire Fighters Local 37, said the union is trying to keep the public informed.
A flier distributed by the union, and circulating around the city, asks: “Is your firehouse closed?”
“The city of Springfield is closing firehouses on a rotating basis,” the flier reads. “Did you hear which one was closed this rotation? Is it your neighborhood firehouse? When will my neighborhood firehouse be closed? How close is the next fire engine? If the house is open, does the fire apparatus there have any water on it to put out your house fire?”
The flier urges residents to call their aldermen and the mayor’s office to find out.
“The biggest reason is these firehouses are safe places for the public,” Burton said. “There are walk-up emergencies that happen at them.”
Firefighters have stood outside closed fire stations with signs letting passers-by know they are closed. The closings also are listed on Local 37’s Web site, http://www.iaffl37.com/.
Eleven of the 12 city firehouses are to be closed, one at a time, on a rotating basis in the wake of 17 firefighter layoffs. The city says the layoffs took place because the firefighters union refused to accept contract concessions.
Nine of the 17 laid-off firefighters could be recalled if the union votes to accept delayed pay raises. The remaining eight firefighters would remain laid off to compensate for furlough days the union has refused to take.
Burton said the union is still seeking clarification on a pension- related mater.
The proposed concessions call for raises due March 1 and Sept. 1 to be postponed to Feb. 12 and Feb. 26, 2011. But firefighters who retire during this budget year would be able to receive both raises two pay periods prior to their anniversary dates. The union is checking to see if those pay increases can be used to increase the retirees’ pensions as well.
Asked whether the public should be notified of closures, Ward 1 Ald. Frank Edwards, a former fire chief, said: “We never did that before, when the station was never closed, but let’s say the guys were training and on another alarm, we didn’t announce, ‘OK, nobody’s there.’ In those instances, another engine house is going to cover it.”
“It’d be one thing if we said we’ve closed a whole section of the city,” Edwards said. “We have a different deal.”
Edwards said he’s received two or three e-mails from concerned residents and one phone call.
Ward 10 Ald. Tim Griffin agreed with the city’s approach.
“I think it might create a panic,” he said, noting that there’s no guarantee anytime that a fire station is staffed, even under normal circumstances.
Ward 5 Ald. Sam Cahnman disagreed.
“The people employ and pay the salaries of our firefighters,” he said. “The people should know when their local fire house is closed.”
During the last city council meeting, Cahnman expressed concern that he had learned about the closure of a fire station near his ward closing from a phone call from a reporter. Aldermen should be kept in the loop, he said.
He added Monday that whatever plans are being made to close future stations should be made public.
Ward 8 Ald. Kris Theilen said the city doesn’t necessarily need to tell people the fire station is closed, but one person should be there at all times to handle walk-in emergencies.
Ward 7 Ald. Debbie Cimarossa said she doesn’t see what the harm is in letting the public know.
“People have a right to know what the plan is for rotation,” she said. “They’d be more upset if they went to a fire station thinking it was housed with staff and it was actually closed.”
Deana Poole can be reached at 788-1533.
Fire station closings
Station 6, 2156 S. Ninth St.
Station 7, 1428 S. Glenwood, starting Wednesday
*Closed previously (since March 1)
Station 3, 801 North Grand Ave. W.
Station 4, 1900 E. Converse
Station 5, 1725 E. Clay
Originally published by DEANA POOLE.
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