Hamilton fire dept. cuts in effect on Wednesday - KLTV.com-Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville, Texas | ETX News

Hamilton Fire Dept. cuts in effect

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Fire station brownouts due to budget cuts began in Hamilton on Wednesday, leaving some residents worried about safety.

"It's very concerning," Hamilton resident Freda Bobbitt told FOX19.

Bobbitt has lived across from the Schuler Avenue fire station for more than a decade.

"[I feel] safe. I know they're there," she said. "If I need them, because I have needed them, they're there."

When staffing levels drop the Shuler Avenue station will be at the top of the list for a brownout.

"I'm very anxious about how this is going to play out and how this is going to work," Fire Chief Steve Dawson said. "I have concerns and worries of course for the safety of our citizens and of course the safety of our firefighters."

On one hand, Dawson says some days they may actually have an extra paramedic unit available since those take two people to staff instead of three that the fire engines require. On the other hand, he says an increase in response times is unavoidable and he also expects more calls to go out for help from other departments this year.

"The budget decisions were pretty tough decisions by council based on Hamilton's economic climate right now," Chief Dawson recognized.

Hamilton city officials say the brownouts will save the city $800,000 per year, in an effort to offset a more than $3 million budget deficit.

If the cuts didn't come from fire citizens would have to consider other sources of revenue like raising taxes. 

"Hmmm… I guess we'd have to," Bobbitt said in response to the ongoing debate over whether citizens should pay more to retain the former services.

Without more green currently on the horizon, the city is looking at a year of brownouts.

"I'm in the bed at night and I hear them making their runs and I know they're there," Bobbitt said. "And then tonight when I lay down and I'm not going to hear them, and I know they're not there; I'm just not going to be as comfortable as I was."

"This is my new reality, this is the fire department's new reality, this is my firefighters' new reality," Dawson said. "We have to deal with it and we have to make the best of it that we can make of it with what we have."

He says he department currently has 106 employees. Previously a full shift was considered to be 28 employees although now the department has made plans to compensate all the way down to 21 employees per shift. The brownouts will increase the workload on not only the personnel, but the equipment that remains in use.

On most days, the engine at the Schuler Avenue station and one engine at fire headquarters on Pershing Avenue will be taken out of service, eliminating a majority of the department's overtime costs.

Fire officials say the Schuler Avenue station will not be permanently closed and will become a medic unit station in 2014.

Dawson says brownouts will vary day-to-day based on staffing with either one or two engines potentially out of service when staffing is down.

According to the department, the areas that will be impacted the most by the brownouts will be on the east side of Hamilton and the industrial area out by the bypass.

"We have a very solid group of professional firefighters and they're very dedicated to their job," Dawson said. "They may not like this and they may not agree with this, but I think at the end of the day and the bottom line is they're still committed to providing the citizens a service."

Dawson says it will likely be months before the department understand the impacts of brownouts on service times.

The city is also considering cutting 18 firefighter positions by May, but no final decision has been made. The city is currently in talks with the local firefighters' union.

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