HOUSTON – The Houston Fire Department had 14 units out of service Saturday that included seven emergency response units and seven fire engines.
The units sat idle as part of a “brownout,” or an intentional cut back on staffing. It’s one way the city is dealing with an $8.5 million deficit from paying too much overtime to firefighters.
At Station 56 in Scenic Woods, half of the units sit at the station, with not enough staff to operate with them.
It’s not just Scenic Woods this is affecting, but all of Houston. In total on Saturday, fire stations 21, 78, 20, 61, 56 and 45 all had engines out of service, HFD officials confirmed.
In addition, the ladder truck at Station 77 was browned out. Ambulances at Stations 5, 12, 40, 47, 56 and 80 and one medic unit at Station 36 were browned out, also confirmed by officials.
The city and the union have tried to reach an agreement to keep all units in service, contingent on the average number of unexpected absences to stay below 35 per day in a two-week period. HFD exceeded that and the agreement was cancelled, according to officials.
Also adding to the problem is that the shortage of staff requires HFD leaders to call in off-duty firefighters to fill gaps and pay them overtime.
The people truly affected in this situation are the residents that rely on the firefighters to help them in emergencies. Pastor Davis heads a church right across the street from Station 56 and his family lives in the community.
“I’m just concerned about how quick the responses would be to those in major accidents around here. Recently, I had a son and a daughter in an accident and I was comforted to know that they were able to get there in time,” said Davis.
The Houston Fire Department admitted the brownouts will affect response times and safety for the community. Residents worry that emergencies in their neighborhood would be responded to from further distances or not at all.
“It would make it bad for the whole community. Anybody out this way, it would be bad,” said Tommie Davis, a Scenic Woods resident.
HFD said it will continue to provide the highest level of customer service possible with the resources available. As for how long these brownouts will last, that’s up to how fast the city and the union can come to a solution.