Alarms Sound Over Fire Cuts in Detroit

Many Detroit residents and firefighters said they thought Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick's proposal to shut down five fire companies and lay off 41 firefighters was outrageous.

But now recommendations to the City Council have many sounding alarms.

The council, looking to close a projected $300-million deficit in the city budget, is eyeing $15 million in additional cuts to the Fire Department operations budget and $7 million in salary reductions.

That could mean a total of 147 firefighters would be laid off and 10 fire companies would be deactivated.

Neither of the plans would close any fire stations.

"We tried to use a laser, but City Council used a hatchet," Deputy Mayor Anthony Adams said Monday, referring to the decision on budget cuts.

The council also is looking at recommendations that would cut $54 million from the Police Department as it looks to cut the deficit.

Council members say the plan presented by the mayor is so full of holes, they have no confidence that it will be balanced.

They say they have little choice but to try to come up with a revised budget that will get the city through the next year.

"This would be horrible for our community," Kilpatrick said Monday at a news conference. "The decisions I made in my budget did not come easy. But you can't cut with an ax."

Adams, Fire Commissioner Tyrone Scott and Police Chief Ella Bully-Cummings met with council members Monday to discuss the council's proposed cuts. Bully-Cummings and Scott implored the council not to make additional cuts to their departments, which they said are already working with minimal funding.

Meanwhile, members of the Detroit Fire Fighters Association Local 344 spoke out against the proposed cuts at a news conference in front of two burned houses at Elm and Harrison in southwest Detroit. The neighborhood has been the target of arsonists.

State Rep. Steve Tobocman, D-Detroit, who along with area residents joined union members at the news conference, said the city needs to seek alternative budget cuts.

"There is not a lot of fat to trim, but fire services are a matter of life and death, and it's absolutely critical that the city have the resources to respond," Tobocman said.

John Nagy, a 50-year resident of southwest Detroit, said the area needs more, not fewer, firefighters and equipment because of a nearby Marathon oil refinery and heavily industrial Zug Island.

"If these places were ever to catch fire, it would be disastrous to southwest Detroit," he said.

Fresh on the minds of some residents were the fires that swept through five structures in Highland Park on Friday. That city had to rely on Detroit and suburban districts to battle the fires.

"We don't have the fire apparatus and fire equipment," said Lois Koehler, 65, a lifelong resident of southwest Detroit. "They're going to lay off these men when I hear there aren't enough men at fire stations now."

Councilwoman Barbara-Rose Collins and other council members say police and fire have to be looked at because about a third of the city's budget is spent in these public safety departments.

Distributed by the Associated Press