by: Alex Fisher
Posted: Aug 11, 2020 / 10:58 AM PDT / Updated: Aug 12, 2020 / 03:43 PM PDT
BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — Troubling messages over the weekend from the Kern County firefighters union say firefighters are not able to properly man their stations and that some are in danger of closing. However, county officials say stations are not closing.
Safety Alert — that’s what the firefighter’s union posted on social media over the weekend, saying services were being browned out or shutdown. KGET’s Alex Fisher spoke with Fire Chief David Witt, who said things are dire when it comes to his department and its budget.
However, Witt said services are still being provided and stations are not closing. There have been rumors circulating for weeks that county fire stations were going to close temporarily in what’s known as a brownout.
County Chief Administrative Officer Ryan Alsop recently addressed these claims, saying “we are not closing stations.” County Supervisor Mike Maggard responded to the misinformation on Kern County in Depth. “One of the oldest strategies in politics is to make people afraid and when they do that, you get them to speak out and move in a certain direction, and that’s what the firefighters union is doing, scaring people into thinking they’re going to lose their fire service, and for two reasons they’re doing this…more money and more positions,” he said.
Then, an alarming post from the firefighters union over the weekend: Firefighters at Station 25 in Buttonwillow were not able to provide advanced life support services. “I was not able to staff the fire station the way I wanted to staff the fire station,” Chief Witt said. Witt has been handed a difficult task — balance the checkbook and maintain a high level of service. “It’s the toughest thing I’ve ever had to do in my life,” he said.
The fire department is stretched to the thinnest it’s ever been. Witt said he’s short 62 positions and that the call volume has increased more than 40 percent over the past 10 years. That’s why Witt has worked with county officials to prevent stations from closing. The new budget gives the county fire department millions more dollars. It’s the only county department not affected by the budget cuts, according to county administrators.
So as of now, Chief Witt sets the record straight, saying “we have not implemented a brownout.” Witt also said his department is being impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. He said if a firefighter tests positive or is exposed to the virus, it can hurt staffing even more. The other issue comes this winter, when property taxes are assessed. Kern County is already struggling with property tax revenue. If it decreases again, Witt and other county officials say we could fiscally be in a lot of trouble.