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HFD: Response times delayed during brownouts

Tuesday, February 25, 2014
HFD response times increase HFD over budget and making cuts Budget woes force cutbacks at HFD

There are new developments in the fight over the Houston Fire Department's budget and its solution of having rolling brownouts. The day started with a new lawsuit by the firefighters union and new numbers on how those brownouts have already affected response times.

Four days after seven transport units from the fire department were idled, the firefighters union fought back by filing a lawsuit asking for a temporary restraining order against the brownouts.

"Our goal in this is to ensure the safety of firefighters and citizens," said Bryan Sky-Eagle, president of Houston Professional Firefighters.

According to data provided by the fire department, the response time for basic life support -- ambulances -- was on average seven minutes and 28 seconds during the weekend prior to the brownout, and eight minutes this past weekend, when the first units were idled, though the fire chief says Houstonians are still being protected.

HFD Chief Terry Garrison said, "I think we are delivering proper service, our firefighters are doing a great job out there and will continue to do so."

Both the city and the union argued their sides on Tuesday. After a 30 minute hearing, Judge Elaine Palmer denied the request for a TRO, which would have forced the city to find money elsewhere to pay for fire overtime. The city attorney was pleased.

"Management has a right, under our existing contract, the mayor and the fire chief, to determine the allocation of resources," explained city attorney Dave Feldman.

Houston Mayor Annise Parker agreed, pointing out the same units were idled in 2010 when the recession hit the city. She issued a statement that read in part, "The union raised no concerns in 2010. If we had the ability to make this move then, we have the ability to do it now."

The fire union president says the city has the money elsewhere, and believes an end to brownouts is what's best for Houstonians.

"I'm disappointed in the judge's ruling but we respect that," Sky-Eagle said. "We respect her decision. We were looking for a 14 day waiting period to keep the status quo."

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