South Hill fire station facing budget ax

Published On: Nov 14 2012 04:55:53 PM PST   Updated On: Nov 14 2012 06:27:39 PM PST
Busy season strains fire department budget
SPOKANE, Wash. -

Faced with a $1.3 Million budget shortfall, a South Hill fire station may be facing some drastic cuts in its operations.

The plan on the table is to significantly change the way Station 9 runs and take a fire engine out of service. Station 9 is located at 18th and Bernard on the South Hill.

There are other fire stations in town that don't see as many calls as Station 9, but since they are in remote parts of Spokane the fire department said that putting Engine 9 out of service and relying on help from nearby stations makes the most sense.

There has been a station in this South Hill neighborhood for more than 100 years. For Stephanie Gross and her family it's more than just the local fire house.

"They are always working on their yard and the station and want to teach the kids about the trucks and their jobs," Gross said.

But some of their good neighbors could soon be leaving because of a gap in the budget.

"When our budget is primarily people we have to make changes, we have to modify our deployment system," Spokane Assistant Fire Chief Brian Schaeffer said.

Earlier this fall the firefighter's union, Local 29, agreed to a new contract with the city.

Wages will be frozen for next year, but extra health care costs will leave the fire department $1.3 Million in the red.

So here's the proposed plan to deal with the shortfall: Engine 9 would go out of service and the firefighters that work at Station 9 would be transferred to other stations.

Nine rookie firefighters would also be laid off. These layoffs are in addition to the nine vacant relief firefighters positions that are on the chopping block in the city's 2013 budget proposal.

"It is very emotional not only for the chief staff but for the people in the community," Schaeffer said.

About 80-percent of the calls at Station 9 are medical leaving only 20-percent that are fire related. The two-person Rescue 1 crew, currently at Station 1 downtown, would move to Station 9 and handle all the medical calls.

As for fire calls, Station 9 would have to rely on help from nearby stations.

"When the speakers open up and it's a fire, that company is going to be rolling out with two people with no firefighting capabilities, there is limited amount of things they can do," Schaeffer said.

As for Stephanie Gross, she hopes the neighboring fire house stays put.

"We are just really lucky to have them so close and we wouldn't want to lose them," she said.

The Spokane City Council is expected to vote on this proposal, along with the rest of the budget, in the coming weeks.