No one else was injured in the 7 a.m. blaze at 565 Blair Ave.
Brownouts are rotating closures of fire companies at six firehouses throughout the city.
They were instituted in September as an attempt to keep the fire department from overspending its budget by $2 million on overtime.
Top officials with the Cincinnati Fire Department said units were on the scene within three minutes Saturday.
They said the brownout did not contribute to the death.
The nearest ladder company – the unit primarily responsible for search-and-rescue operations in a fire – was just three blocks away but couldn’t respond because it was browned out.
That left ladder companies from Corryville and East Walnut Hills to respond.
“Firefighters are angry,” union vice president Joe Arnold said in a statement. “Firefighters feel the loss any time there is a fire fatality. “To know that if (Avondale) Ladder 32 was in service this may not have happened is more than heartbreaking. It is infuriating.” Arnold’s statement said the additional response time of ladder companies from Walnut Hills and Corryville “may have contributed to the person’s death.” “Ladder 32 is just blocks away from the scene of the fire, (and) would have responded and started searching for this trapped person sooner if they were in service.”
Acting Fire Chief Chris Corbett called that statement irresponsible. He said the ladder companies actually arrived at the same time as the Avondale fire engine, which had the responsibility of fighting the fire. “We had three companies on the scene in three minutes,” Corbett said. “I do not feel having Ladder 32 in service would have saved the person. To say otherwise is a gross mischaracterization. I don’t know how you make that statement without a thorough investigation. I think (union officials) jumped on this for political reasons, and it’s unfortunate to do that.” Corbett said the union was trying to scare the public. But union spokesman Doug Stern said you just have to look at a map to see the truth. “There’s no way a company coming from four times the distance could arrive at the same time as the unit from Avondale,” Stern said. “And we’re saying the person who died in that fire would have had a better chance had Ladder 32 been there.” Eight people lived in the home. Five escaped. Two others had been staying with friends or relatives away from the home. The residents are supervised during the day and left on their own at night. A similar debate over brownouts was sparked last month when an Oakley business, Son Pallet on Brotherton Road, caught fire when the engine company at the Oakley firehouse was shut down. That caused an engine from Madisonville to respond. Union officials said it took firefighters five minutes to respond to that fire, while Fire Chief Robert Wright said the response time was three minutes, adding that the brownout did not lead to any additional damage.
The brownout policy works like this: When firefighters call in sick or are otherwise not at work, the city puts companies out of service instead of paying others overtime to cover the shift. The city had planned to continue the brownouts through the end of this year. Four fire companies in Cincinnati were browned out Saturday, in Avondale, downtown, Oakley and the West End.
Cincinnati Mayor Charlie Luken said the brownout policy will be reviewed. “We’re always reviewing it,” Luken said. “We’re constantly asking the union to give us leeway to either put people on other kinds of duties or to do this without overtime because the budget has been busted.” The city tried to avoid the brownouts in August by asking the union to allow certain companies to operate with three-person crews, rather than the standard four-person crew. That, combined with a $125,000 surplus from Tall Stacks, would have avoided the brownouts, Corbett said. But the union sued over the reduced crews, and the city went back to its brownout policy. Union spokesman Stern said his organization resisted crew reductions because they are unsafe. “One person has to stay with the truck and one person has to man the hydrant,” Stern said. “A three-person crew would leave one firefighter in a building lugging around a 75-pound, charged hose by himself.”