Budget Juggling Exposed at Fatal Fire
EARLIER THIS YEAR HOUSTON, Texas, Mayor Annise Parker established a “brownout” plan for the fire department as a measure to help balance the city’s ballooning deficit problem. After a public outcry assisted by the firefighters’ union local, she compromised somewhat and agreed that that the brownouts would be eased as long as HFD averaged fewer than 35 unexpected absences, such as sick days and emergency leave, per day.
When the brownouts are imposed, several engine companies two truck companies and some ambulances are taken out of service and the crews dispersed around the city to fill shortages. The policy of including ambulances for the shutdowns is resulting in nearest fire units covering medical calls and since March when the plan went into effect, several fire calls have had long response times because of engines being occupied on the medical calls.
This is the situation that arose Sunday night when a house fire begat a fatality. The house was about one block from the firehouse serving it, but the engine was on an ambulance call covering for a browned-out ambulance. When units did arrive they found a working fire around 10:30 pm and after knocking the fire down they found the body of a resident in the front part of the house.
Taxpayers are publicly decrying the mayor’s decision earlier this year to give most of the top city hall staff hefty pay raises including upping the City Attorney’s salary by 43% to $350,000, making him the 2nd-highest-paid public employee in Texas.
Thanks to Patrick Mahoney.
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