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Firefighters protest as cutbacks begin

August 6, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
The L.A. City Fire Department begins implementing a series of rolling cutbacks that even department leaders concede will increase response times. Firefighters say lives are being put on the line.The so-called brownouts begin on Thursday at fire stations across Los Angeles. It's all part of an effort to close the department's massive budget deficit.

The brownout plan was developed with the goal of keeping all the fire stations open, but it means on a rotating basis, stations will have to deal with service reductions that some firefighters fear could lead to tragedy.

"It's dangerous. Once we hit red flag days, we're in trouble without the fire department," said Ann Marie Lickley from Mount Washington.

Lickley lives in an area with a number of canyons, and the only way to get in are narrow winding roads. She says any slowdown in response times would be critical.

"Our response time is 7 to 10 minutes already. Citywide, it averages about 3 to 5, so it's not good news," she said.

Dozens of firefighters marched at City Hall on Wednesday to protest the cuts.

Officials said 28 stations citywide will be affected.

"This is our first day, and firefighters, this burdens us because we're used to providing the service that our people of Los Angeles expect, but at the same time, we understand the sacrifices that the city and the policymakers has asked us to do," said Capt. Steve Ruda from the L.A. City Fire Department.

Under the departments modified coverage plan, 15 fire trucks, nine ambulances, one battalion command team and three emergency offices will be taken out of service at different stations every day for a year starting Thursday.

L.A. Fire Chief Douglas Barry says that means fewer engines may be available during times of high fire danger and emergency response times could be delayed.

"We get there late to people's homes, and unfortunately, what that results in is people dying unnecessarily," said Pat McOsker, president of the United Firefighters of L.A. City.

The union says it is willing to make concessions to help the city get through the financial crisis and prevent the brownouts.

City officials are expected to consider a plan that would defer bonuses paid to firefighters this year, and the union is said to approve of that plan.

Firefighters are planning to protest again on Thursday.

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