Officials with the Pasadena firefighters union on Monday warned that budget cuts to the Fire Department could put local firefighters in danger.
“We are already at the bone,” said Scott Austin, president of Firefighters Local 809. “We are now talking about the safety of firefighters and safety of the community. Budget holes of the city shouldn’t be filled at the expense of the Fire Department. The proposed cuts are a slap in the face to our department and the residents of Pasadena.”
City Manager Steve Mermell is recommending departmental budget cuts of $2.3 million, meaning the elimination of about 15 currently vacant full-time positions, including positions in the Police and Fire departments.
Under the current proposal, a battalion chief position would be eliminated. The position, which pays $ 246,000 a year, is currently empty.
Officials in the department will have a chance to make their case in front of the City Council during upcoming budget deliberations.
Cities usually steer away from public safety cuts to balance budgets.
According to Austin, a recent survey called “Join the Conversation” asked local residents to list their budget priorities, and preserving public safety received an enormous amount of support.
Residents registered the highest level of support for “Preserving 911 emergency response times and fire/paramedic services” followed by “Keeping fire stations open and upgraded.” Despite the appeal from residents to bolster public safety, “the proposed budget does the opposite,” Austin said.
Pasadena firefighters have already voluntarily increased retirement benefit payments ahead of schedule, provided streamlined alternatives to workers’ compensation insurance and provided the city with a plan to help reduce hiring costs and increase diversity in the department.
At Monday’s City Council meeting Fire Chief Bertral Washington said he had considered ways to cut costs, including placing less firefighters on shifts and rolling brownouts, which would eliminate engine staffing for 12-hour shifts.
In 2015, mailers sent out to 17,000 Pasadena homes said funding cuts made to the Fire Department “placed the public’s safety at risk.”
Between 2008 and 2015, the department faced a 10 percent budget cut each year, ultimately leading to the elimination of one paramedic ambulance at the Lake Avenue Fire Station, deteriorating infrastructure in the form of antiquated stations and equipment, and inadequate response times due to the lack of available resources.