Controversy

Apr 20, 2012 10:26 AM

Residents Upset Fire Stations Left Empty In Lexington

(AP) - A house in Lexington burned unchecked for several minutes Thursday while a fire truck from more than two miles away rushed to the scene. A firehouse less than a half-mile away sat empty with no one on duty because of budget constraints.

The city and firefighters union have been at odds over the practice of idling firehouses around Lexington - known as "brownouts" - something city officials started doing earlier this year because of money and staffing shortages.

International Association of Fire Fighters Local 526 President Chris Bartley said the brownouts are delaying emergency responses. The union made more than $5 million in concessions during collective bargaining negotiations last year.

City spokeswoman Susan Straub told the Lexington Herald-Leader that officials don't like the situation and are trying to resolve it.

Public Safety Commissioner Clay Mason hopes to hire a new training class of new firefighters by May to eliminate staffing shortfalls caused when 40 of the city's 520 firefighters retired in January. City officials said two recruit classes of about 25 firefighters each are tentatively budgeted for fiscal year 2013, in addition to the class expected to start in May.

Twenty-six people have been given conditional job offers, though an 18-week training session means they will not be on the job until at least the fall.

Union officials said many of those retirees chose to leave after the city drastically raised insurance rates for city employees, just weeks after firefighters agreed to wage freezes, reductions in health care contributions and reductions in vacation time during collective bargaining. Overtime pay was virtually eliminated.

While there were no injuries reported in Thursday's fire, the response left residents angry. Engines from station 12, which is just around the block, typically takes less than two minutes to get to a scene.

"We need our lifesavers on duty all the time. All the time," said Theresa Mims, who lives next door to the house that burned.

Ed Davis, spokesman for the Lexington fire department, said firefighters typically try to keep response times for fire trucks and ambulances at four minutes or less, in line with standards set by the National Fire Protection Association.

"Every minute that a fire burns, it doubles in size," he said.

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

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