Fire chief says department cant maintain standards under current budget

Minneapolis Fire Chief Alex Jackson told a city panel today that if the Fire Department does not get more funding, he doubts he will be able to staff enough firefighters to meet city standards.

The Fire Department is in the process of eliminating 32 firefighter positions through attrition in 2011. That plan was approved in the 2011 city budget. Jackson said that by the end of the year he wouldn’t be able to maintain the city’s “standard of service,” which calls for a minimum staffing of 96 firefighters per day.

That standard of service as approved by the City Council in 2005.

In attendance at the joint meeting of the city’s Ways & Means and Public Safety, Civil Rights & Health committees were several concerned firefighters.

No recommendation was made by Jackson as to whether the city should lower its standards or increase the Fire Department’s budget. Council Member Betsy Hodges (Ward 13), the chair of the Ways and Means Committee, asked Jackson to come back with a dollar amount for how much it will cost to keep staffing levels at 96.

Jackson said after the meeting that without more money, he would have to either reduce staffing on each rig or else he would have to do a “brown out,” which means taking rigs out of service for one day on a rotating basis.

“We understand times are tough,” said Mark Lakosky, president of the local Firefighters Association. “But they’re making decisions that will affect the safety of citizens.”

Laksosky said that when rigs are shut down, firefighters must come from longer distances to respond.

Lakosky pointed to a “Results Minneapolis” document that shows the Fire Department hasn’t reached the city goal of responding to 90 percent of emergencies within five minutes for the past seven years. It has averaged 86 percent.

The city sets an upper limit for fire staffing at 114. That would allow for four firefighters to staff each of the city’s 23 rigs. But Jackson said the department is averaging a daily staffing level of  just over 96.

The National Fire Protection Association, which is widely referred to by fire departments, recommends that each rig be staffed with four firefighters.