SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) – A new year means a new budget for the city of Savannah and more cuts to Savannah Fire and Emergency Services.
The city’s 2019 budget takes effect January 1, and local fire union has been outwardly against the funding reduction on social media, especially after Thursday’s fire at The Olde Pink House.
In November, the city retired Engine 16. Johnny Hinton, the President of the Savannah Professional Firefighters Association, says if it was still in operation, it would have been the first to respond to the fire at The Olde Pink House.
“Had they been there we would have had 12 personnel on scene within four minutes,” Hinton said. “Seeing that they were gone, we then only had eight personnel on scene within four minutes and one less fire truck.”
The additional trucks and people had to come from other areas to fight the blaze.
“That has now required additional units from the east side, west side, south side to be pulled in, which then leaves those areas uncovered when otherwise they would have been if 16 would have been there,” Hinton said.
The proposed, and highly controversial, fire fee city leaders scrapped earlier this year would’ve given Savannah Fire its own funding, instead of making it compete with other city departments for money. Since the fire budget still comes out of the general fund, the city had to reduce funding to pay for other departments.
“We are doing a study to make sure we are qualifying everything we are going to do and make sure we do what we need to do and that’s right,” said Savannah Mayor Eddie DeLoach. “And we will put it in front of the citizens. If there is anything questionable about it we will be right there in front of them. They can look at us and see what they think. But we feel like what we have laid out will take care of the citizens of Savannah.”
The 2019 reductions to Savannah Fire are the most publicized, with the city cutting about $650,000 from its budget, wiping away more than a dozen vacant positions and eliminating a fire engine.
“We had to come to a level we could afford,” DeLoach said. “This is what we can afford. But I do want to emphasize again there is nobody lacking safe fire protection here in the city of Savannah. No firemen are being laid off. Nobody has lost their job. We keeping the same numbers we got. There are no fire stations closing at all. So I don’t know what the beef is.”
Hinton said the department is already operating under normal staffing levels.
“The firefighting profession has been around for a long time,” Hinton said. “There is science backing up the number of personnel needed on the scene and a certain amount of time to safely mitigate an incident. We have lost firefighters because there hasn’t been adequate personnel on scene in a certain amount of time.”
The fire union said on Twitter either Rescue 2, a highly specialized unit on the Southside, or Truck 12 on the westside could be taken out of service on Jan. 1, 2019.
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