Miami-Dade County – A Real Emergency: Proposed Fire Rescue Cuts Are Dangerous

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Miami_Dade_Fire_CutsRobert Asencio – Florida Public Employees

July 26, 2013

Used to seeing county firefighters of the Miami-Dade Fire Department on the job helping others, it is shocking to see them now at intersections in Miami-Dade County trying to save jobs.  As with many who work for the public across Florida and other states public employee jobs and services the public rely on are being cut by elected officials who prefer to jeopardize public health and safety over doing what is right for the people they were elected to serve.   Political mis-actions that now places the public in need of emergency medical services in danger with closures of fire stations and eminent lay off of nearly 149 fire personnel.

Fiscal conservatives will agree the above mentioned measures go a long way in saving taxpayers, but at what expense?   If there is no way of reducing the demand for emergency services by the public, does it make sense to shutdown stations and eliminate personnel?

Below is an article provided to Florida Public Employees by Elaine De Valle, a Pulitzer Prize-writter and political watchdog Blogger known as Ladra, that spells what the mayor and county commissioner have done and political reasoning behind their dangerous actions.

By: Ladra

A real emergency: Proposed fire rescue cuts are dangerous

The residents of Miami Lakes had no lol fire rescue service Monday.

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The single unit was out of service due to the  rolling “brownouts” of fire trucks and rescue units — blamed on a $15 million shortfall that might or might not be real (more on that later) — and residents who called 911 had to wait longer for fire trucks or paramedics miles away.

Same for people in Westchester, when Station 47 was taken out of service. Thursday, the rolling “brownouts” struck West Miami, and Country Walk. Today, it is the good people of Aventura and Palmetto Bay that better hope they don’t have too many real emergencies or accidents.

Even single unit stations, like the the one on 120th Street near the Turnpike, are being shut down, which means residents near there have to count on service from one of the two nearest stations — on Sunset and 117th Avenue or Kendall and 127th, which is another single unit station so they could only respond if they weren’t busy on another call.

Our average fire rescue response time is already at about eight minutes — well above the six-minute national standard that is what experts tell us is as long as a brain can survive without oxygen.

If the proposed cuts on the fire department go through, as recommended by our Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez in his surprise, surprise about-face budget plan that suggested a flat tax rate, these “rolling brownouts” will just become standard operating procedure and we can expect those response times to go up, experts say.

Because it cuts the positions of 149 personnel, including 144 firefighter positions and five civilian staffers.

And it is all happening so fast that people don’t really know what is going on. They’re still talking about cats and dogs. Ladra, like any good watchdog, is an animal lover. I voted in favor of the animal services improvement that would lead to us having a no-kill shelter. But firefighters trump cats and dogs every day of the week.

“They’re not allowing people to know the full ramifications of cutting the fire service,” said Rowan Taylor, president of the Fire Union, who adds that firefighters have given concessions since 2009 that reduced their operating costs by almost $30 million. The mayor doesn’t tell us that, of course.

“Time is so important in emergency service. And when you take a unit out of service, it takes longer to have another truck come from another area.”

One good example was the bicyclist killed in Key Biscayne a few years ago. The closest rescue unit was out of service and it took 14 minutes for a unit to arrive from South Miami.

“No one knows what the outcome would have been if we had a unit closer, but you have got to give people a fighting chance,” Taylor said, adding that the mayor had told him in March that he would raise the tax to fully fund them at current levels.

We’ll talk about that lost trust in a near future post. And we’ll talk about the irresponsible vote on setting the maximum millage rate and the looming closure of libraries later. Because these two things, as well as the voter-mandated animal services improvements — are all three separate matters and the county commission was foolish (read: conniving) to take it all in one bite. Commissioner Jose “Pepe” Diaz‘s attempt to divide them and take them on separately was shot down.

If the proposed cuts on the fire department go through, as recommended by our Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez in his surprise, surprise about-face budget plan that suggested a flat tax rate, these “rolling brownouts” will just become standard operating procedure and we can expect those response times to go up, experts say.

Because it cuts the positions of 149 personnel, including 144 firefighter positions and five civilian staffers.

And it is all happening so fast that people don’t really know what is going on. They’re still talking about cats and dogs. Ladra, like any good watchdog, is an animal lover. I voted in favor of the animal services improvement that would lead to us having a no-kill shelter. But firefighters trump cats and dogs every day of the week.

“They’re not allowing people to know the full ramifications of cutting the fire service,” said Rowan Taylor, president of the Fire Union, who adds that firefighters have given concessions since 2009 that reduced their operating costs by almost $30 million. The mayor doesn’t tell us that, of course.

“Time is so important in emergency service. And when you take a unit out of service, it takes longer to have another truck come from another area.”

One good example was the bicyclist killed in Key Biscayne a few years ago. The closest rescue unit was out of service and it took 14 minutes for a unit to arrive from South Miami.

“No one knows what the outcome would have been if we had a unit closer, but you have got to give people a fighting chance,” Taylor said, adding that the mayor had told him in March that he would raise the tax to fully fund them at current levels.

We’ll talk about that lost trust in a near future post. And we’ll talk about the irresponsible vote on setting the maximum millage rate and the looming closure of libraries later. Because these two things, as well as the voter-mandated animal services improvements — are all three separate matters and the county commission was foolish (read: conniving) to take it all in one bite. Commissioner Jose “Pepe” Diaz‘s attempt to divide them and take them on separately was shot down.

And we’ll also get back later to the sneaky way that commissioners, under the mayor’s lead, cancelled the meeting next Tuesday, which would have been the only chance for residents and firefighters to make their case and for them to rethink their boneheaded decision to go with the lowest possible millage, which gives them no wiggle room to debate, even if they came back to a flat tax rate later.

But let’s talk about the first responders first. Firefighter paramedics are and should remain a priority. Even if we have to lose some libraries and, heaven forbid, some of our four-legged friends, this is one area where cuts should not be made as a package deal.

They are our lifeline. We are talking real life and death issues here. And Ladra is really sick and tired of the whining done by some politicians and others about firefighters.

I’ve heard politicians complain of their “bloated salaries” . But for some reason, they don’t see the seaport director’s salary — which was raised almost 70 percent recently from $170,000 a year to $290,000 – as a bit bloated. None of them complain about the mayor’s large and well-paid staff and the other raises he has given to his chosen few (more on that later).

I’ve heard a state representative say that firefighters have cushy jobs. Say what? Just because they work 24-hour shifts and then get two days off to recover? You try working 24 hours straight in a busy urban zone where you answer an average of 18 or 20 medical and accident calls. You try getting puked on by some drunk and/or drug addict whose life you are trying to save. You try running into a burning house — over and over again — to pull out children that are really already dead, melting in your arms, while your laddermate resuscitates the mother who lit the house on fire.

You try living with that as well as the life-threatening conditions that make firefighters’ life expectancy one of if not the shortest in public servants.

Why would anyone want to do that for a living?

The county’s excuse for the rolling “brownouts” in our community is that our firefighters exceeded the overtime limits they had agreed to in the last contract. But they don’t go to work on OT because they just come in cuando les da la gana. They don’t come in because they just felt like it. They get OT when they are called upon to. When they are called in by their supervisors to cover for an empty shift. And that is because there are gaping holes in the force. Which could be (read: is) the county administration’s fault.

“We’ve gone five years with no new hirings. That’s why the overtime is so high. We are covering for a shortage of personnel,” said Lt. Bridgete Keating, a 25-year veteran.

There are more than 100 current vacant positions. And while there have been new hires to replace retiring staffers, it’s not making a dent in that. The class of 40 recruits this year, for example, will basically take the place of about 40 firefighters who are leaving for retirement or greener pastures.

But there has been no increase in the number of positions and the department is still operating with staffing levels from 2008 — despite a 10 percent increase in the number of 911 calls. That amounts to about 3,000 more calls a year.

They are already doing more with less. On a recent week they had nine units out of service due to a lack of manpower. But now, they make up for it by stretching with what they have. Like the 16 units that responded to a building fire Wednesday on Bird Road and 127th Avenue.

Last year, the mayor cut the only fire boat from service. That was a bad move and the boat should be reinstated. Instead, now Gimenez is cutting six to eight units and basically firing dozens of firefighters paramedics. Sure, some will just move or transfer to other jobs. But not the majority.

And the first ones out will be the last ones in (read: the lowest paid members of the force). People like Ralph Sam, 31, a recruit hired on June 10 who could be on the unemployment line in weeks. His wife, who has been a firefighter for six years, could be cut, too. “That would mean the whole household is unemployed. And we have a small child,” said Sam, who — like 20 of the 40 recruits in the newest class — are veterans who left other departments to come here.

“Now I don’t know where I’m going to go,” he told Ladra.

Yes, the cuts could go that deep. Mauro Santos, 39, of Miami Lakes was hired in 2008 and never had a minute of job security, even though he answers an average of 18 or so medical and accident calls a day working at a Kendall station.

Lt. Omar Blanco says the firefighters are already doing more with less.

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