Two fires in three days, in the first-due area of fire companies closed due to budget cuts, has Sacramento leaders reevaluating rotating closures. Click here for our coverage of Friday’s fire.
Watching this one from afar, I will say the Sacramento Fire Department is handling things a little different than what I saw up-close in DC when firehouse roulette was tried in the 70s, 80s and again in the 90s.
Then, officials tried to tell us everything was just fine, even though people were dying down the street from closed fire companies. If I recall correctly, the 1970s version sparked the first in a series of first-amendment lawsuits lost by the city after the administration tried to stifle a firefighter who dared to say the emperor had no clothes.
As for Sacramento, a battalion chief made it clear Sunday’s fire would likely have been different if Engine 16 had been there. The fire chief is saying delayed response times will continue to happen. The department has also included the information in press releases and provides a schedule of closed companies on its website.
I find it refreshing that a fire department that usually tells the public every second counts, isn’t trying to convince us it doesn’t count when the circumstances are inconvenient.
City leaders say they will take another look at cost-cutting fire department brownouts after two fires in two separate neighborhoods since Friday. The victims of those fires had to wait longer than usual because the engine closest to their neighborhood wasn’t available.
The first fire happened around 5 p.m. Friday. The blaze destroyed two homes in the Del Paso Heights area. Engine 20 was “browned-out,” so Engine 17 had to be called in.
Sacramento City Fire Captain Jim Doucette said they like to keep response times to around five minutes. Engine 17 arrived on scene seven minutes after the call went out.
“Whether it would have been one house or two houses if engine 20 was in service, I have no idea,” Doucette said Friday evening.
Three units were damaged and two completely destroyed by the blaze that broke out around 2:45 p.m. Sunday at the Chatham Apartments on the 6800 block of 24th Street in south Sacramento, Sacramento Fire Battalion Chief Jonathan Williams said.
The closest station to the blaze, Fire Station No. 16 at 8763 4th Street, is less than a half-mile from the building, but was “browned out” Sunday and not staffed to respond to the fire, Williams said.
Instead, crews from Engine 12 at 24th Street and Sutterville, located 2 1/2 miles away from the fire, were the first responders to the fire.
Sacramento City Fire Chief Ray Jones said as long as the city continues to brown-out engines, delayed response times will continue.
“We had estimated by doing some modeling beforehand. We thought the average response time would go up at least a minute. Right now we are seeing it going up between one minute and two minutes,” Jones said. “The longer we brown them out, the longer we don’t staff a company, the more exposure we will have.”
Mayor Heather Fargo says it’s an unfortunate necessity due to the city’s budget problems.
“It’s unfortunate that we had to do the brown-outs this year, but our budget just doesn’t allow us to fully fund every department,” Fargo said.
Fargo also noted that all city departments had to cut at least 20 percent of their budgets, while police and fire only cut four percent.
“We gave police and firefighters the raises they had asked for as well,” Fargo said. “Part of those raises is part of why we don’t have quite enough money in the city to do what we need to do.”
Fargo plans to raise the issue at Tuesday night’s city council meeting.