Could Station Closure Lead to Slower Fire Service?

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In a fire or medical emergency, a quick response is critical.

The head of Lansing's firefighters union says the continued closure of a fire station is hurting the department's ability to get to some parts of the city.

"Any response to the downtown district, the response will be within national response times," Bryan Epling said. "But as you move farther out ... into Station No. 3's primary response area, in those neighborhoods, yes, response times will be increased."

The station near I-496 has been closed since October. That decision was agreed upon by the city and the union. But Epling, president of IAFF Local 421, says the city is stalling on making repairs needed to reopen it.

The mayor's chief of staff, Jerry Ambrose, says any impact on response times is minimal. He says the city is evaluating whether Station No. 3 is worth saving.

"It's a very old building that has not been maintained very well over the years," Ambrose said.

In addition to the temporary closure, the city is also looking to cut costs by cutting down on overtime.

"There are some cases where it's cheaper to pay overtime than it is to hire," Ambrose said.

The city's budget calls for around $600,000 in overtime for the new fiscal year. Last year's budget proposed $900,000 but the city is now projected to spend $1.2 million.

At the same time the city says it plans to save money on overtime, it's making a change that means the equivalent of two more firefighters will have to be covered by others' overtime.

So how can overtime costs be reduced?

A new class of recruits will help by replacing retiring workers, Ambrose says.

The city is also looking at reducing the number of trucks sent on a call. The budget suggests allowing an engine crew to leave its truck and make an ambulance run.

Epling says that will hurt a station's ability to respond to multiple emergencies.

"We don't have an alternative," Ambrose said.

The mayor's office says raising taxes or using city reserves is not an option as the mayor and city council work to finalize a budget.

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