Up to half of fire department truck companies may be affected by firefighter layoffs

CINCINNATI - Up to half of Cincinnati's fire-fighting trucks could sit idle as part of plan to help fill the city's multimillion-dollar deficit.

That's what Matt Alter, president of Cincinnati Fire Fighters Union Local 48, said after a meeting with the fire department's command staff Tuesday. The two sides met at department headquarters on Central Avenue for nearly three hours, discussing restructuring scenarios.

"Unfortunately, things are still fluid and everything is still on the table," Alter said. "The reality is it's ugly – it's absolutely ugly – there's no easy way to cut and everybody's going to be affected."

Twenty of the department's 40 trucks might be affected by the 118-firefighter layoff plan, which is part of City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr.'s broader "Plan B" to layoff 344 city workers to help fill the city's $35 million deficit.

The city must have a balanced budget for fiscal year 2014 by July 1.

Officials did not formally identify which pieces of equipment could be taken out of commission or browned out because of the layoffs, but WCPO Digital reported last week Engine Co. 34 on Ludlow Avenue in Clifton; Engine Co. 46 on Erie Avenue in Hyde Park; Engine Co. 5 at McMicken Avenue and Vine Street in Over-the-Rhine; and Engine Co. 37 on Lilienthal Street in Riverside may be affected.

Every day there are four firefighters assigned to every truck in service.

The city's 40 trucks are housed at 26 different fire stations throughout the city. The department has 26 engine companies, meaning trucks that can pump water, 12 ladder trucks and two heavy rescue units, which are specialized companies that conduct automobile extrication, trucks totaling 40.

The fire department is authorized to have 841 sworn members, including command and administrative staff. That figure was last adjusted in 2006 and does not account for the additional two ambulance units added to the force in 2009, according to Alter. As it stands today, the number on the force is 790. On any given day, there are 192 firefighters working.

Already being short from the authorized figure, laying off additional firefighters will force the number of affected truck units to rise - possibly half of all the department's trucks, Alter said.

The four truck units identified last week that may be affected are the only truck units at the fire station, and if they are taken out of commission, the station may close.

"Depending on how many people we would have to cut, that would mean we would have to either temporarily close a fire company or eliminate it," Assistant Fire Chief of Operations Mose Demasi told WCPO Digital on Friday.

Fire Chief Richard Braun was not available for comment following Tuesday's meeting, but Meg Olberding, the city manager's spokeswoman, said it could cost approximately millions in unemployment compensation to layoff firefighters.

Union leaders were told the closures would be based on criteria like response times and areas where there is overlap among fire companies.

Alter said the proposed closures would endanger the safety of residents and firefighters if they are implemented.

"It's a very bleak picture, responsive times are going to go through the roof," Alter said.

Fire department leaders are scheduled to meet again at 1 p.m. Friday, Alter said.

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