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Union: Fire cuts put residents at danger

July 22, 2009 8:02:28 AM PDT
L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa approves a controversial plan to cut back on firefighting services in an effort to save money, but firefighters are outraged, saying politicians are putting lives in jeopardy.Villaraigosa addressed the budget move at a news conference in Hollywood on Wednesday.

The mayor said he will go forward with the service cuts to the L.A. City Fire Department, which means he will not be staffing as many as 30 fire stations on a rotating basis over the next 12 months.

The modified reduction plan, submitted by Fire Chief Douglas Barry, means that L.A. City Fire will cut $39 million from its budget by not staffing a battalion command team, three emergency medical services battalion offices, 15 fire companies and nine ambulances.

The mayor calls the cuts difficult but necessary after being unable to win concessions from the firefighters union.

"I will make the tough decisions. That's why I got elected. But I'll also do it in a way, as I've shown every single time since I've been mayor with respect to the workers of this town, do it in a way that's fair, as I can, recognizing that when you have no money, you have no money," Villaraigosa said.

Pat McOsker, president of the United Firefighters of L.A. City, said the pay cuts to firefighters were too severe, far exceeding cuts asked of city civilian workers.

He said the union couldn't agree to terms that would cut firefighter pay by as much as 20 percent.

The 87 firefighters who will be displaced from their normal shifts will staff vacancies on remaining fire companies and ambulances that would typically be staffed by off-duty employees working overtime.

The plan will keep all of the city's fire stations open and staffed with at least one fire suppression resource, but Barry does admit this will increase response times and it will downsize the number of engines available for pre-deployment in areas with high fire danger.

"The result of delayed responses is deaths," McOsker said.

On the United Firefighters of Los Angeles City Web site, a statement said, "Don't close fire companies and ambulances Mayor Villaraigosa: if you do people will die and it will be your fault."

The firefighters union said they think this is just a ploy for the mayor to gain some leverage during contract negotiations.

Service reductions are set to being August 6 if no deal is reached by the two sides.

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