(HOUSTON) — Tuesday’s fire in the Montrose area and another on Wednesday at a church in The Heights are good reminders of the importance of a speedy response by the Houston Fire Department. When you add the possibility of having a fire truck or ambulance out of service because of budget issues, it is cause for concern.
Thankfully, the fire department was not in an official brownout situation during either of those incidents.
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In fact, only an hour before Tuesday’s construction site fire started, Fire Chief Terry Garrison told News 92 FM that all engines were running and only a couple of ambulances were out of service that day. Whether those two ambulances were part of the original seven units taken out of service over a month ago is not clear. Those units were taken out of service days before the actual brownout plan went into operation, and were not part of the plan presented to city council by Chief Garrison a week earlier.
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Here is the part that concerns firefighters and citizens as well: HFD says more than 90 units responded to the scene on Tuesday, with more than 400 personnel. Thats hundreds of firefighters and their apparatus at one place at the same time.
With that in mind, even if a brownout did not directly affect the area where the fire was burning, trucks, equipment and firefighters from dozens of other stations were tied up with that situation, leaving the rest of the city vulnerable. That is not a good situation to be in with a full staff of firefighters, but HFD admits it is way understaffed. And based on projections made by Houston Professional Firefighters’ Association President Brian Sky Eagle, it will take years to get enough new hires through their training and certification before they can begin to work.
Mayor Annise Parker was asked Wednesday after the weekly City Council session, if she would reconsider the brownout plan after seeing the massive response necessary to get control of Tuesday’s fire. Her answer was a simple no.
Parker says any number of things could delay the response times during emergencies, including traffic, accidents and other unexpected delays. The mayor added that she has no idea if a brownout would have slowed the response time to the fire and emphasized that she is not the one who makes the decision on which units get parked for the day when there’s not enough firefighters to fill all the seats.
That brings us back to Chief Garrison’s initial reaction to the idea of brownouts: People in need of EMS will just have to suffer longer, and houses and buildings will have to burn a little bit longer.
The brownout plan continues through the end of the fiscal year, on June 30.