E.C. firefighters: Understaffing puts city at risk

July 19, 2001|By RUDY YNIGUEZ, Staff Writer

El Centro firefighters appeared en masse Wednesday before the City Council to express their concerns that the city's Fire Department is understaffed and needs more fire-suppression personnel immediately.

El Centro Firefighters Association Director Ken Herbert said the city is faced with minimum staffing levels 60 percent of the time consisting of one engine company at each of the city's two fire stations. An engine company consists of a fire captain, an engineer and a firefighter.

Herbert said the city should have at least one more engine company to respond to residential fires and more for commercial fires.

He said the fire departments priorities at a fire are to rescue and remove victims, keep the fire from spreading, improve ventilation, attack the fire, salvage and preserve property and firefighter safety.


"I submit to you now, we are not able to accomplish those tasks safely," Herbert said.

Herbert said he understands the problem facing the City Council regarding money to fund all city priorities, and he suggested the council could charge for hydrant maintenance, increase user fees, work with developers to build a third fire station and increase the collection rate of monies for services.

"I think we can do some creative things to generate money for our department," Herbert said.

Herbert said the purpose of appearing before the council was to bring the issue forward. He said the city needs six new firefighters in the next two years and the city should redirect any new funds away from hiring administrative personnel and spend it on fire-suppression personnel.

Mayor Cheryl Walker said the issue will be fully addressed as the City Council and staff go through the current fiscal year's budget process.

The council is set to review a proposed budget at its Aug. 1 meeting and set a third public workshop on the issue.

After his presentation, Herbert said the staffing problem is made worse through the use of mutual aid between cities, where the various agencies respond to fires in other areas, leaving them at even lower levels of staffing.

He said the minimum level of service is not being provided to the taxpayer.

Herbert also said tripling of monetary losses to fire in El Centro in 2000 as compared to 1999 and 1998 is due in part to an insufficient number of firefighters as well as more fires.

In 2000 there were $2.57 million in fire losses. In 1999, losses amounted to $753,830, and in 1998, $762,790.

One firefighter said if the city had one extra engine company, the Fox Theatre in downtown El Centro could have been saved.

Staff Writer Rudy Yniguez can be reached at 337-3440.

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