Order Delaying Philadlephia Fire Station Closings Is Extended

A judge yesterday extended by one week a temporary restraining order that blocks the Street administration from closing four fire engine companies and four ladder companies to save the city nearly $7 million.

Common Pleas Court Judge Matthew D. Carrafiello said he wants attorneys for the city and for Local 22 of the firefighters' union to file briefs that address the impact the cuts would have on firefighters and residents and labor issues in the case.

The case will continue at noon Monday.

City officials had planned to close the fire companies July 1 but were blocked last month when Common Pleas Court Judge William J. Manfredi issued the temporary restraining order.

The Street administration also plans to create eight emergency medical services units that would operate 12 hours a day to respond to a sharp increase in calls for emergency services. It also plans to relocate six Fire Department units.

Hundreds of residents and firefighters have been holding protest marches, trying to get the Street administration to rescind its plan. But officials say the cuts are necessary to balance the city budget and would not jeopardize safety.

"We believe that this is a safe plan," Fire Commissioner Harold B. Hairston testified yesterday.

The city gives up more than $500,000 in savings each month by delaying the cuts, according to city Budget Director Robert Dubow, who also testified.

But in an interview after the court hearing, Thomas O'Drain, president of Local 22, said: "$6.7 million, I don't think is worth one life."

The state legislature adopted a bill last week that would require the city to carry out an impact study before implementing the cuts. Kate Philips, Gov. Rendell's spokeswoman, said Rendell planned to review the bill but generally did not support "micromanaging" cities and towns.

Local 22 also wants the court to stop the city from implementing the cuts until a study can be done. O'Drain says the cuts would jeopardize the safety of firefighters and the public by increasing the amount of time it takes firefighters to get to fires.

Local 22 officials also say that Hairston should have negotiated with them before announcing the cuts last month. The union has filed an unfair-labor-practice complaint with the state and a grievance against the city.

"If they refuse to even bargain with us, why have a union?" O'Drain said.

Hairston, who will retire Aug. 1, said that after the administration told him to slash his budget, he relied primarily on his nearly four decades of firefighting experience and the knowledge of his deputies and other staff to come up with the cuts.

"I've got 39 years and eight months here. I'm getting ready to walk out the door," Hairston testified. "If I didn't think it was safe, I wouldn't have done it."

Others, however, are not so sure.

William C. Richmond, a former city fire commissioner who now works for a company that studies fire safety, testified that if the plan were implemented, there would be a "major gap" in the fire ladder coverage east of Broad Street, between Girard Avenue and South Street.

Hairston, in an interview, disagreed and said that response times would be well within the national norm of about five minutes.

Although the Street administration plans to eliminate eight companies, it does not plan to lay off any firefighters or close any firehouses. Instead, Fire Department personnel would be shifted.