DOWNEY – The City Council is poised to dramatically cut fire service to balance this year’s budget, taking one of its four engines out of service.
The change — and the staff reduction that comes with it — could eventually save the city $1.8 million a year in staff costs.
The City Council is scheduled to vote on the proposal at Tuesday’s meeting.
“It’s a major change,” Downey Fire Chief Lonnie Croom said. “Its something that has happened across the state and is rumored to be coming in some of the cities surrounding Downey in the very near future.”
The number of fire-suppression workers would drop from 63 to 54.
If the cut is approved, Downey will lose one fire engine from Station 1 on Paramount Boulevard in the southwest part of the city. The station was chosen because it is home to a larger fire truck that will still be able to respond to calls in the area. Station 1 is also home to one of the city’s two paramedic units. The other paramedic unit is in station 4 in the northeast district of the city.
The change will without a doubt increase the average response time, which is about 4:55 minutes in Downey, Croom said. The hope is that some of the redundancy at Station 1 will cause only a small increase, according to city officials.
“We’ll see how much when the data come in,” Croom said.
The department responds to about 9,000 calls a year, and 82 percent of the calls are medical, Croom said.
The city has discussed the idea of increasing paramedic service by either bringing in another paramedic unit or by cross-training more of its firefighters and adding more equipment, Croom said.
While those ideas will be discussed in the future, the economy — and the city’s tax income — are too bad to add services, Croom said.
“The economy dictates what we can do,” he said.
The city last added a paramedic unit in 1986, he said.
Because cities collect and report response data differently, it’s difficult to compare Downey’s response times to other cities, Croom said. Still, the 4:55 figure was considered to be a relatively quick average response time.
Downey currently has 58 firefighters, four more than the maximum level. Croom said the department won’t lay off firefighters and will eventually reach the new level through attrition.
The city, which runs the regional dispatch center, will track carefully the average length of responses, Croom said.
Meanwhile the city will still send the mandated 16 firefighters to fire calls, but the city will likely have to rely on surrounding cities to help out, Croom said.
“Your hope always is that we don’t add risk to the community,” he said.
The city last month passed a balanced budget reached by closing a an $11 million deficit.