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Mpls Firefighters Balancing Crews Through Budget Cuts

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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — As the city of Minneapolis tries to balance its books, the fire department is trying to balance out crews.

Last month, budget woes forced the department to layoff six firefighters. At a city council meeting Thursday, the Minneapolis Fire Chief said he would plan on hiring those firefighters back as current crews retire. However, at least two administrative positions could be eliminated this time around.

“I appreciate the mayor taking administrative cuts. I hope he’s just realizing that as far as boots on the ground, we’re as low as we can go,” said Local 82 Union President Mark Lakosky.

Along with some cuts to department spending, one way Minneapolis Fire Chief Alex Jackson wants to balance the books is by eliminating the EMS coordinator. An assistant chief will go back on the street, as well.

Chief Jackson said he’s just reacting to the five-year budget plan the city sets.

“My approach has always been use whatever guidance advice they have based on the budget. Then do a plan based on that for the Firefighters,” he told the Ways and Means Budget Committee.

While current firefighter jobs aren’t up for elimination, this time around, crews will be rearranged.

The proposal also calls for some trucks to operate with three or four firefighters instead of the previous four or six.

“I’m glad they’re not taking people off the rigs,” Lakosky said. “There’s a certain number of personnel that it takes to run this fire department before you shut rigs down.”

On any given day, 92 firefighters are needed to run rigs. Under that recommendation, if four firefighters are gone whether they call in sick or are hurt, a rig could close.

As Lakosky explained, a shutdown rig means the station closes for a day.

“If you live eight blocks from that fire station and you call 911, that fire station isn’t coming. [Your emergency] will be responded to by the next available station,” he said.

Union members said that’s only happened once this year.

Regardless of what budget plan the city council approves for 2012, the firefighters said their concern is keeping people safe.

“It’s not about jobs, it’s about the proper amount of people to do the job and the proper amount of time needed to do it,” said Lakosky.

The chief wasn’t available for comment on Thursday because he was with the council members.

The city council still needs to vote on the proposals. They wouldn’t go into effect until 2012.

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