By: Sean Cudahy
Updated: December 31, 2020
Temporary closures of a Dayton fire station will accelerate starting with the New Year, potentially affecting response times, the fire fighters union says. WHIO has reported in the past on so-called “brown-outs” at Station 10, along South Broadway Street in Dayton – occasionally used since 2017 as a cost-saving measure.
Starting the morning of Jan. 1, though, the station will be unstaffed “more often than not,” Dayton Fire Fighters Local 136 President Kraig Robinson said in a New Year’s Eve interview with News Center 7. Robinson worries what this means for people in surrounding neighborhoods. “It affects time,” he said. “Time is critical – if someone is having a trauma or someone is shot or stabbed or there’s a cardiac emergency- that’s what it affects.”
Brownouts are a tactic used by many fire departments, including numerous in the Miami Valley, the News Center 7 I-Team found in a 2019 investigation. The tactic is used to deal with staffing and budget issues – often a way to cut down on overtime costs.
In the case of Station 10, the city has said in the past, staffing the station at all times would not be feasible economically due to overtime costs, noting redundancy in the fire department’s plans allow these brownouts to be used safely. “We have enough staffing to adequately serve the city,” former Dayton Fire Chief Jeffrey Payne said in a Feb. 2019 interview with News Center 7′s Sean Cudahy. Payne has since retired.
The fire fighters union questions the timing of these increased closures at station 10, though. In a prepared statement Thursday, the Union said: “The city has chosen a perplexing time to drop its guard with this decrease in staffing. “When the pandemic began, we reached an agreement with the City Manager’s Office which acknowledged that emergency funds would be used to keep this critical station open and staffed with at least two EMS providers around-the-clock. The virus hasn’t gone away, but now this fire station will.”
The city of Dayton told WHIO these cuts are necessary due to the financial strain put on the city because of the COVID-19 pandemic – a budgetary crunch requiring $20 million in reductions – at least 1.92 percent from each city department, the city said. Continuing to pay overtime to staff station 10, the city said, “Would provide a detrimental financial impact that the rest of the city departments cannot absorb.”
Robinson, though, argues the city had options to avoid this financial crunch – in the form of federal grants that would have dramatically reduced the cost burden on Dayton – but chose not to pursue the grant, he said. He further pointed out, Station 10 has remained busy during the COVID-19 pandemic handling medic runs. “It’s money well spent,” he said. “We’re just asking the city to consider funding in some shape or form to keep bodies here (at the station).”
Mayor Nan Whaley, in a written statement, said, “This illustrates the need for assistance to local governments. The COVID pandemic has significantly impacted our revenues and the cuts being made are not sustainable for our community.” The most recent stimulus package passed by Congress and signed by President Trump did not contain aid for local governments, like many lawmakers had pushed for. The city of Dayton and Dayton Fire Department administration did not respond to requests for an interview Thursday.