Controversial service cutbacks at three Tacoma fire stations will continue after more than a month of labor talks aimed at averting some budget cuts to the Fire Department have failed.
Unfortunately, no mutually agreeable solution came forth, Tacoma Fire Chief Jim Duggan said Tuesday. The talks are done.
The Fire Department began scaling back its services Tuesday at 7 a.m. with the deactivation of fire engines at Station 13 in the Proctor District and Station 15 on the East Side.
Less than an hour later, a house caught fire two blocks away from the Proctor station. Because the station at 3825 N. 25th St. no longer has a pump, hose or water tank, firefighters from Station 9 at 3502 Sixth Ave. responded to the blaze in the 4000 block of North 25th Street. They were able to confine the fire to a single room while the crew from Proctors Station 13 made sure nobody was in the home.
Duggan said the firefighters response was within the departments four-minute travel time response goals.
Two firefighters now staff Station 13 from 7 a.m.-7 p.m. with an emergency response vehicle equipped with medical supplies. The station is not staffed overnight, when other fire stations will respond to fires in the Proctor District.
Station 15 at East 64th Street and McKinley Avenue also has lost staff and its engine, although it remains staffed around the clock.
Failed negotiations between the city and its firefighter union mean that those service cuts will remain in place and that Station 6 Tacomas only fire station in the Port of Tacoma will close after the Murray Morgan Bridge reopens in coming weeks.
Top officials for Tacoma Fire Union Local 31 said Tuesday that their union made two offers to the city to offset up to $1 million in cuts aimed for fire stations in Proctor and the Port of Tacoma. But the city rejected each without explanation or a counter-offer, they said.
They just told us no, union president Ryan Mudie said. They dont want solutions, they want more concessions and its putting the public at risk.
With the city facing a $63 million shortfall, Tacoma Fire was among the departments hardest hit by the budget ax under the 2013-14 general fund. City officials last month approved an austerity budget with $11 million in Fire Department cuts, including reductions of about 30 firefighters through retirement buyouts.
Councilman Anders Ibsen, whose district includes Proctor, said Tuesday that no one wants to see resource cuts but that the city must march forward to a new fiscal reality.
Whats done is done, Ibsen said. The budget has been approved, and the bottom line is peoples (fire) service really isnt diminishing. I have faith in Chief Duggan and our firefighters. Im very confident the Fire Department will be able to respond in a manner so that public safety will be protected.
In recent weeks, some City Council members and fire union officials expressed optimism that concession negotiations could help stave off some of the Fire Department cuts.
Local 31 offered $500,000 of contractual concessions more than a month ago, seeking to split the costs with the city to restore $1 million worth of cuts, Mudie said.
After the city rejected that proposal, Mudie said his union came back with a $1 million offer that would have increased firefighter work hours to help restore services. He didnt fully explain how the proposal would have saved the city money.
The union floated the offer three weeks ago before the council took its holiday break, he added.
But without explanation, Mudie said, the city informed the union Tuesday it was rejecting the offer. Council members discussed the offer during a closed-door session earlier Tuesday.
Were talking about something this important and they couldnt get back to us for three weeks, Mudie asked. They took the holidays off because apparently they dont care about public safety for the citizens of Tacoma. You can bet members of Local 31 were working over the holidays.
Duggan, who declined to discuss details of the unions proposals, said the city appreciated the unions offers and thoughtfully considered them within a goal to find a budget-neutral solution that would be sustainable for the long term.
They didnt fit that, he added.
City fire officials also plan to continually monitor the departments performance amid the new cuts and will report back to the council within three to six months, Duggan said.
Department spokesman Joe Meinecke said the changes to staffing did not have a noticeable effect on response to Tuesdays house fire.
Our response times were good and from an operations standpoint, things went just like we talked about and prepared our crews for, he said.
Investigators said the cause of the fire was a failure in the houses knob and tube electrical wiring. Damage was estimated at $15,000.
Lewis Kamb: 253-597-8542
Stacia Glenn: 253-597-8653