Local

HFD pulling six ambulances, medic unit out of service

Friday, February 21, 2014

The Houston Fire Department is cutting back on some services in an effort to make ends meet, and now we know exactly what those services will be.

According to Houston Professional Firefighters Association Bryan Sky-Eagle, the root of the problem is staffing issue, not hiring new firefighters, but letting existing staff work overtime. He says they're 500 firefighters short right now.

He says the ideal response time is four to six minutes. Ten minutes is reasonable, but he say now it's just not gonna happen.

Starting 6:30am Saturday, the ambulance here at Fire Station 12 will be out of service, indefinitely.

"They're closer to us than anybody else," Robert Rincon said.

Rincon and his near-north side neighbors like living around the corner from Fire Station 12. They need it and use it.

"I had to use it two years ago, and I had a very quick response," concerned resident Nick Galmiche said.

But an internal Houston Fire Department memo obtained by Eyewitness News confirms that "due to budgetary constraints, the following units will be placed out of service until further notice."

Station 12's ambulance is one of them.

"How does it sit with me? It's very upsetting really, very. If my mother needed some help and no one was here to help her, I mean I think anybody would feel the same way," concerned resident Alice Alexander said.

Five more ambulances at different stations will go out of service and so will one medic unit. That's a total of at least 14 firefighters, paramedics and EMTs who will shuffle to spots filled by overtimers.

"What we fear the most i as the money continues to tighten, he's gonna be putting more units out of service," Sky-Eagle said. "And it really does jeopardize the safety of both firefighters and citizens."

Houston Fire Department Chief Terry Garrison has said taking these seven units out of rotation will save roughly $1.5 million between now and July 1.

But for Rincon, you just can't out-price saving a life.

"There's a lot of old folks around here that need help," Rincon said. "By the time they get here, somebody's either gonna be dead or they're not gonna make it or something because they're too far."

City Councilman C.O. Bradford says he is outraged at this move.

"The chief and others in the fire department should have seen this coming and then give us options as council, not just have one meeting yesterday -- then the very next day this is what you do," Bradford said. "There are many other things ... far less critical to operating this city than fire and EMT services."

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