With tight finances haunting local governments, budget season means time for tough decisions. But members of the Ithaca Fire Department say further cuts to their department could put public safety at risk. Tamara Lindstrom has more.
ITHACA, N.Y. -- When it comes to public safety, they are often the first line of defense.
"We're the ones called when they have no one else to call," said Ithaca Fire Chief Tom Parsons. "They call 911 and if the police can't handle it, they end up calling us. So while we are the fire department, we are the technical rescue department, we're the come pump out the basement when it is flooded type of thing. We're out there doing it all."
But the fire department isn't immune to the budget crisis. The mayor's 2013 proposed budget for the City of Ithaca calls to cut four positions: Two firefighters will retire and another two would be laid off. The department has been shrinking for two years.
"With people and equipment, we've been trying to make sure we're as efficient as we can be," Parsons said. "We provide as good equipment as we can to make their job easier so they get their work done quicker. And a lot of times speed is important to get the situation mitigated before it gets out of hand."
The chief says the department is already running below the National Fire Protection Association recommended number of firefighters and cutting more could citizens in danger.
"It's the number of firefighters that arrive on the scene in an emergency. And while we might need eight or ten or eleven, we may only be showing up with four or five or six. And that means that the work that gets done doesn't gets done or gets done slower," Parsons said.
After hearing the presentation Tuesday, city leaders voted to keep the cuts to the two firefighters already retiring.
The mayor said the reality is the money to keep the budget steady just isn't there and the city has to cut costs in order to stay out of trouble. It's a position the chief understands.
"From 2010 overall, we'll be down ten positions," Parsons said. "And while I wish we could afford to put some of those back in, the city's not in that situation."
Common Council will make final budget decisions next month. The public will have two more chances to weigh in on the budget. Hearings are scheduled for October 22nd and 30th.