March 1, 2024

Whole Community News

From Kalapuya lands in the Willamette watershed

Firefighters oppose proposed cuts, loss of engine

6 min read
Ask yourself, suggests Zak Harney: What do I want to see if my house or my neighbor's house is on fire—a fire engine or a pickup truck?

The budget committee hopes to complete its work Wednesday evening and send its recommendation to council. During the discussion, members are likely to reconsider a proposal to cut $3 million from the fire department.

[00:00:15] Fire Chief Mike Caven: The basic premise is we’ll reduce a fire company in a station in West Eugene. We’re still working through the data to make sure that our decisions fit the needs of the community as a whole best. But effectively, an engine would shut down. It would be replaced with a crew of two people on a smaller pickup truck-type vehicle. We call ’em a brush truck— has a little bit of water, small pump, is capable of responding to some of the gaps in EMS calls.

[00:00:42] John Q: Firefighters spoke out against the cuts. On May 10:

[00:00:47] Kris Siewert (Lane Professional Firefighters): My name is Kris Siewert and I proudly serve as a union president for Lane Professional Firefighters Local 851.

[00:00:52] Today I come before you to address the concerns regarding the proposed budget cuts to the fire department. In a sense of déjà vu, our union leadership find ourselves in a familiar position—advocating for the funding that can make a difference between life and death.

[00:01:05] Throughout the years, we have faced a proposed engine cut on three previous occasions, but after testimony outlining the negative impacts such a reduction would have on the community, the city leaders at the time made it a priority to find the necessary funding to prevent these cuts.

[00:01:19] The reduction in funding in the proposed budget took us by surprise and left us disheartened, especially given our current environment. Over the past five years, our call volume has skyrocketed, going from 38,000 calls in 2018 to 48,000 calls last year alone. This equates to an average increase of over 2,000 calls per year with no increase in fire resources. 1981 to 2020: Over a 900% increase in calls while personnel increase of only 24%.

[00:01:47] It is crucial to highlight that the Community Safety Initiative was specifically designed to provide funding to enhance and improve our response capabilities rather than replace existing resources. While we acknowledge the need for innovative solutions to meet increasing demands, we must ensure that these solutions complement and enhance our existing resources rather than diminish them.

[00:02:07] John Q: Kris spoke again on May 17.

[00:02:09] Kris Siewert (Lane Professional Firefighters): Hi, my name’s Kris Siewert. I’m the president of Lane Professional Firefighters. I’m here to draw attention to something that we believe should concern all of us.

[00:02:17] Our concern lies with the proposed replacement of our fire engine with a squad. This decision, despite its cost effectiveness, will significantly impact our community’s safety and emergency response capabilities. Removing an engine from an already strained system will have a ripple effect throughout the entire community, not only ours, but also Springfield.

[00:02:35] The primary consequence of this decision will increase response times. Every aspect of our service focuses on rapid emergency response. Removing an engine will force adjacent engines to cover the depleted areas, creating a cascade effect that will require engines from both the Eugene and Springfield communities to respond outside their normal response area to cover. This will decrease unit reliability and increase response times.

[00:02:59] Fire demands immediate action and prompt response. Fire engines are designed to carry personnel, water, and equipment to effect fire control. However, reducing an engine and relying on a squad will jeopardize our ability to fight fires promptly in specific areas of the community.

[00:03:15] This delay increases the potential for significant property damage, loss of life, and irreversible consequences. Our community is growing, with new residential and commercial developments constantly emerging. This expansion brings an increased demand for emergency services. Reducing the number of fire engines fails to adapt to our evolving needs and endangers the lives and well-being of our community members.

[00:03:36] Moreover, if an engine is cut now and funding is later reallocated to restaff, it would entail a time-consuming process of hiring, an academy, and then a year-long training process to fully restore that engine. We must prioritize the safety and our community by ensuring our emergency response capabilities align with the expanding demand.

[00:03:54] Squads, while suitable for certain tasks and lower acuity calls, lack the capacity and capabilities of engines for fire suppression. Prioritizing cost savings over community safety increases the vulnerability for our neighborhoods to devastating fires and emergencies beyond the squad scope.

[00:04:10] I urge the committee to reconsider the proposed cuts, and please prioritize the protection of lives, properties, and the overall well-being of our community.

[00:04:18] Zak Harney (Lane Professional Firefighters): My name’s Zak Harney and I’m the vice president for the Lane Professional Firefighters Association. I’m speaking on behalf of the 300-plus members that we represent in voicing our strong opposition against decreasing response resources for Eugene Springfield Fire Department.

[00:04:31] As departments around the state look to add staffing and resources, the city is asking our department to decrease resources.

[00:04:38] On a daily basis, our resources across both cities are depleted and response times become delayed. On Friday, May 12, we had to ask for resources from South Lane Fire and Lane Fire Authority due to call volume exhausting all available resources in the cities of Eugene and Springfield.

[00:04:53] On multiple occasions, there were engine companies performing extended patient care on scene due to no available ambulances to transport these patients to the hospital. Unfortunately, this is not an anomaly, but rather a daily occurrence.

[00:05:05] As the city continues to rapidly grow upward and outward, we should be discussing the addition of resources in personnel rather than the reduction of resources and full-time firefighter spots.

[00:05:15] Community members of Wards 1, 2, 6, 7, and 8, I want you to ask yourself a question: If mine, my neighbors’, or my family members’ house is on fire, do I want to see a fire engine show up, or do I want to see a pickup truck show up?

[00:05:28] When the fire department is asked to reduce resources, the city is asking us to make decisions that go against our mission statement. Our mission is to serve our community by protecting life and preserving property. In less than 30 seconds, a small flame can turn into a major fire, and in less than a few minutes, a fire can become out of control. These neighborhoods affected by the reduction of a fire engine will see response times increase to over five minutes for the first arriving fire engine.

[00:05:52] This increased response time could be the difference of a life and death situation, and it will undoubtedly affect the severity and damage caused to a community member’s home and property.

[00:06:02] I kindly ask that you all reconsider the reduction of resources to Eugene Springfield Fire Department. Right now, more than ever, our members need to know that the city stands behind us and supports the work that we do within our communities.

[00:06:15] Councilor Mike Clark: First, I want to say that I will have a motion later in this process when we get to the appropriate place to address the shortages in fire.

[00:06:25] I think that our decision with CSI (Community Safety Initiative) to add a squad was a good one, but we need to back it out in the same fashion. It’s my idea that, and we don’t need to keep the squad and lose the station. We need to do the other way around. We’ve tried to enhance services by adding the squad. We need to now delete the squad and keep the station.

[00:06:47] Councilor Randy Groves: I’m also very concerned about the reduction in fire protection services, which is much more than just fire protection, and they’re on the front lines as well, helping our disadvantaged community. And it’s part of a larger system. So I really look forward to digging in and seeing how we can best minimize some of these impacts in these areas.

[00:07:12] John Q: The budget committee meets Wednesday, May 24 at 5:30 p.m. Its recommendation will go to city council for a final budget vote next month.

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