by Renee Beninate
Thursday, March 4th 2021
PENSACOLA, Fla. (WEAR) — An Escambia County draft document about fire station ‘brownouts’ or periodic shutdowns has raised some concerns after being leaked online. The document isn’t something imminent. Commissioners call this good, advanced planning.
Escambia County Fire Rescue has 11 open positions for career firefighters. The shortage could be compounded if there is a COVID-19 outbreak. When adding in the resources that must stay on Pensacola Beach with the bridge out, the problem could be magnified. The county has come up with a plan that was posted on Facebook that includes periodic fire station shutdowns, creating a buzz.
But Emergency Manager Eric Gilmore told commissioners not to worry. “This is a case if we get to those minimal levels that are foreseen, or things that happen if we lose additional staff. So that’s what this plan is. It’s a last-ditch effort,” said Escambia County Emergency Manager, Eric Gilmore.
Commissioner Doug Underhill says firefighter pay already has Escambia County behind the curve. “You in your role absolutely have to come up with brownout plans. And all other ways to fix the self-inflicted gunshot wound that is underfunding public safety,” said Escambia County Commissioner Doug Underhill.
The local fire union issued a statement that says in part: We need to ensure 100% that these browns-outs do not occur. We’re the largest department west of Tallahassee, most underfunded and underpaid, and benefits aren’t good like the board says. No reason to feel that the overall problem will be solved.
Commissioner Jeff Bergosh disagrees with the union’s assessment and says the public has no reason to be alarmed. “It’s a draft document that’s still being revised. We certainly don’t want citizens to be concerned. It’s a worst-case scenario, a hail mary pass play. It’s something we never want to implement. It’s prudent planning to have it,” Escambia County Commissioner Jeff Bergosh added.
The document gives no specifics on hours or days stations would be impacted. It does refer to stations in Warrington and Bellview as ones most likely to be impacted.