Cuts Raise Alarm at Spokane, Washington Fire Department

Budget cuts pending at Spokane City Hall have raised the fear level

``We are going to lose five work groups,'' Williams said. ``To us, that's significant. That's almost 20 percent of the work groups we have now.''

It may be significant to insurance companies, too. They last rated the city of Spokane at risk level 3 in 1999. Williams said the rating will probably increase to level 4 during the next survey. That is most likely to cause an increase in commercial insurance rates, but not residential rates, he said.

Sections of Spokane that would become most vulnerable to long response times are at the northwest, southwest and southeast corners of the city, union leaders said.

Because of the locations of stations and geography of the city, units would have to travel farther to mount an effective firefighting force, they said.

The cuts also will mean slower responses for incidents involving hazardous materials, river mishaps and technical rescues such as a trench collapse or a hiker injured on a cliff. Williams said he will have to staff those calls with firefighters from two different stations, increasing the risk of longer responses and making training more difficult.

Union leaders are quietly talking about the possibility of a tax increase, but they haven't spoken publicly about it because they believe city residents are not likely to be receptive, especially if it involves an increase in the tax on city utilities, which is already 17 percent. A public safety property tax levy could be put to voters for funding in 2006.

Lt. Greg Borg, president of firefighters' Local 29, said, ``We'll continue to do the same job,'' despite the cuts.

But he promised a fight to restore staffing levels. ``We understand the predicament the mayor is in,'' Borg said. ``We feel there is a better way.''