I got a comment today on the entry concerning the fire at St. Marie’s Church. The comment noted that Engine 11, from the Lawrence Street fire station, would normally be the first engine to arrive at fire where the church is.
But Engine 11 was out of service.
We’ve written about this issue before, when the firefighters union spoke out about it before the city council.
Units are rotated out of service many nights to save the city money on overtime. This happens because each day there are firefighters out on sick leave, military leave, vacation, and for a variety of other reasons. Replacing them requires paying someone else overtime.
Chief Pitta told me that on Tuesday night Engine 11 was the only unit out of service.
Ladder 1, which is stationed alongside Engine 11 in the Lawrence Street station was first to the fire, arriving 3 minutes and 23 seconds after the initial call. Not far behind the ladder was Engine 1, from the Gorham Street station.
Ladder 1 and a crew member from Engine 1 are pictured below.
“Ideally, all of our fire companies would remain open on every shift which would require considerably more overtime funds than are currently available. Therefore, for fiscal reasons, we close up to two fire companies per shift before expending overtime funds. Last night, it was only necessary to close the one company,” Pitta wrote to me today. “It is difficult to say what, if any, impact that had on the course of the fire. Had people been awaiting rescue, it may have changed the course of the event; however, last night all the occupants had self-evacuated prior to Fire Department arrival.”
City Manager Bernie Lynch mistakenly called me tonight because a snafu with his cell phone made him think I had called him, when I actually hadn’t. But since he called me, I ran this issue past him too.
Lynch mentioned that after Lt. David Keene went before the city council last year, the city has worked with the union to minimize the number of companies that have to be closed. There are now never more than two units out of service, according to both Lynch and Chief Pitta, and on some nights only one unit is out of service.
I called Lt. Keene about this too, but he was very busy and I believe on-duty so he couldn’t talk. He will certainly have my ear if this issue continues to concern the union.
I’m not trying to make a big deal out of this. It doesn’t appear the closure was a big factor in this fire, but at the same time, it’s also a good reminder that budget cuts and tight budgets really do have consequences.