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Norco cutting back on firefighters

May 28, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
Cities all over California are facing big budget problems and painful decisions. Usually, police and fire departments are among the last to face cutbacks, but the city of Norco says, it has cut all it can, and the fire department is next. Anytime the Norco City Fire Department is called out, four firefighters man the engine. But that could soon be cut to three per engine, as the city prepares to lay off half a dozen firefighters. That means 25 percent of the city's fire department.

"Being in a small community, that's a big number," said Capt. Ron Laursen, president of the firefighters' association.

Laursen says firefighters are going door to door to drum up neighborhood support to stop cuts to the fire department.

He says public safety is not something mess around with. He thinks the city should dig into its financial reserves to prevent layoffs.

"Do I think it would be prudent to spend all of our money? No, I do not. But it's responsible to prioritize the cuts and keep public safety whole," said Laursen.

It's all because of the recession. Like most cities, tax revenues in Norco have plummeted. And Mayor Kathy Azevedo says the city has already cut everywhere else. So the fire department might be next.

"As you can see when you're in here, there's almost like an echo in the hall, we have so few employees. Most employees are taking on two jobs at City Hall, and so it's down to having to look at the fire department," said Mayor Azevedo.

She says many other fire departments in the Inland Empire use three-man engine crews. Soon, Norco may have to fight fires that way too.

"We've always taken pride in our fire department, but in these economic times, it's something we have to look at," said Mayor Azevedo.

Officials are expected to declare a financial state of emergency at the city council meeting next week, and they'll make their final decision on whether to lay off half a dozen firefighters by the end of next month.

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