HFD budget cut battle raises questions about public safety

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by Jeremy Desel / KHOU 11 News

khou.com

Posted on February 25, 2014 at 7:53 PM

Updated Tuesday, Feb 25 at 8:00 PM

HOUSTON—Lawyers look at home in the courtroom, firefighters don’t. But that is exactly where the Houston Firefighters Union took its fight to keep as many firefighters and paramedics on the streets as possible.

“It is the most critical issue to the firefighters, which is the safety of the public,” said  Michelle Bohreer, an attorney for the Firefighters Union.

In an unusual move, the Houston Firefighters Union took the city to court hoping to stop the so-called rolling brownouts, the sidelining of various ambulances and fire trucks to try and help close a $8.5 million budget shortfall.

It was a surprise to city attorney Dave Feldman.
“These issues need to be discussed at a bargaining table, not at a courthouse,” he said.

The key issue to the union is simple: Does pulling ambulances and fire trucks off the streets have impact on public safety?

Last week, Chief Terry Garrison told Houston City Council that he thought removing units from service would put the public at risk, but on Tuesday he said something different.

”I think that we are delivering a proper service and our firefighters are doing a great job out there and will continue to do so,” he said.

Under the current contract the city says that management is allowed to cut as they see fit.

There is nothing in the contract that says exactly how many trucks or ambulances need to be in service said Feldman.
“The evidence simply does not support that there is any safety risk here,” he said.

For now the court agrees, denying the union’s attempt to stop the brownouts, but scheduling a full hearing for March 7th.

That leaves the union to make due.
“We will see how the next 14 days go. We are getting steady reports of other people suffering from the lack of services throughout the day and we will just see what the next 14 days holds,” said Bryan Sky-Eagle, who is the President of Local 341 of the Firefighters Union.

The rest of the afternoon representatives of the city and the union met mostly behind closed doors discussing that they say was not the current contract, but other issues. The contract has to be discussed in public session.

 

 

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