Fire department cuts possible even if proposed fee approved

Fire department cuts possible even if proposed fee approved

DANVILLE — Even if Danville aldermen go along with charging a $300 fee for each medical call handled by city firefighters, the added revenue may not be enough to spare the department from personnel cuts.

At least two fire division positions may come open due to retirements in the next fiscal year, which starts May 1. Whether those spots — or any in other departments — are filled will be evaluated by city administration, Mayor Scott Eisenhauer said.

On Tuesday, aldermen will consider whether to offer early retirement to employees in city departments other than fire and police as a way to save money. About 30 employees would be eligible.

Eisenhauer said any positions vacated through the program would be considered for elimination.

Since budget talks began in January, the city has been trying to find ways to plug a deficit between revenues and expenses next fiscal year. Officials have settled on a revenue-boosting plan that includes the medical call fee, which would bring in an estimated $240,000 and will be voted on Tuesday, plus the early retirement program and other cutbacks in daily spending.

But personnel cuts, especially in the fire department, have also been part of the discussions.

Representatives of the Danville Association of Firefighters have spoken out against any cuts, telling aldermen that the department is already down to bare bones and arguing that cuts would compromise the safety of both the public and firefighters.

Jerry Sparks, president of the local association, said the fire department of 53 is already down one person who is on disability and will be retiring. The department has other firefighters who will become retirement-eligible during the next fiscal year, Sparks said, adding that it's a safe bet there will be a second retirement.

Former Alderman Nancy O'Kane, whose son is a firefighter and husband, Mike O'Kane, is a current alderman, asked the city council and mayor at last week's meeting to vote on the original, since-dismissed proposal of an $8 monthly fire fee for city residents and businesses. O'Kane spoke out against any further personnel cuts and the proposed $300 medical call fee.

Sparks said that if aldermen were to reconsider the $8 fire fee, his association would have difficulty supporting it outright, because public support for it is so low. He might change his stance if the alternative was cutting firefighters.

"We would rather see a fee than a cut," he said.

Inside the Danville Fire Department

According to statistics from the city's 2013 public safety report:

It has 53 members — 51 for fire suppression, one for training, and one for clerical work.

Its four stations are manned 24 hours a day — by 17 firefighters at most, 13 at least.

Its main station on Griffin Street has at all times a crew of three — plus one to five additional firefighters.

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