Carol McCracken (Post # 2,483)
“There has been a lot of pressure from city hall to downsize the Portland Fire Department,” said Lt. John Brooks early this afternoon. “I think this brown-out is a step in that direction. We can’t afford to lose any more staff,” he said. lt. Brooks was referring to a 36 hour brown-out for ambulance service that started on Wednesday evening at 8:00 pm. and ended this morning Friday, November 27 at 8:00 am. at the Munjoy Hill fire station. There is also another brown-out scheduled for this evening – beginning at 8:00 pm and ending tomorrow morning at 8:00 am. A brown-out means that ambulance service for the Hill is suspended until an announced date. Paramedics who staff the ambulance will not be working and that cuts down on overtime.
The decision on when and how long brown-outs last is made at the Acting Interim Chief David Jackson’s discretion. (He has not been available to mhn.com for comment. The phone number is 874-8400.) Lt. Brooks, who is also President of the Local Firefighters Union, said that neither the city manager Jon Jennings nor Jackson had reached out to inform him of these staffing changes. He first learned of these changes on Wednesday, just hours before they were about to occur. There would have been two paramedics on overtime duty that this brown-out eliminated.
For four years, the Fire Department has benefited from a federal program the Safer Grant – it gave the city $1 million in funds to keep twelve (12) employees on the payroll. But that Grant ran out in mid-October according to Brooks. He thinks these brown-outs will eventually lead to black-outs to compensate for this loss of revenue from the Safer Grant. When the former city manager Mark Rees and the former Fire Department Chief LaMoira prepared the current budget that runs through next June, they did not include funds should the Safer Grant not be reinstated.
Why are these changes being made in such secrecy? Don’t taxpayers have the right to know how their tax money is being spent or not being spent? How far in advance are these brown-outs planned? By the day or by the month? Why not make public the schedule of brown-outs rather than on a piece-meal basis?
In a consultants report sanctioned by city hall in 2013, the report stated that if the city hired 40 new employees for the fire department, this overtime could be eliminated. The city has taken no steps to implement this recommendation. Brooks says that there are three firefighters on each truck in service, but the national standard recommends four firefighters on a truck in service.
City hall is closed for the long holiday weekend until Monday morning. But several notices were posted around Munjoy Hill this morning requesting that concerned residents call the city manager at 207 – 874-8685. It is believed the notices were posted by someone from the Portland Fire Department. If you can’t get through by telephone, you may also email the city manager, Jon Jennings. (A directive to cut expenses came from the city manager.) The notice also states that ambulances responding to District 1 during brown-outs will come from Central Fire Station, the West End, Rosemont or Allen Avenue. No one from the Acting Interim Chief’s office returned several phone calls today because the office is closed for the long weekend as well.
Please visit previous post for more background information on the brown-outs on Munjoy Hill.