Judge Blocks Philadelphia Fire House Closings

PHILADELPHIA (AP) -- A Common Pleas Court judge has temporarily blocked the city from closing four fire engine companies and four ladder companies as part of a budget-cutting plan.

Judge William J. Manfredi on Wednesday issued a temporary restraining order and scheduled a hearing Tuesday on a preliminary injunction sought by Local 22 of the firefighters' union.

``There have been no negotiations with the union over the decision to close the companies or the impact,'' union attorney Ralph Teti said. ``And there is a real impact on response times, which will impact the ability of firefighters to safely perform their jobs. Those things need to be studied.''

City Solicitor Pedro Ramos called the ruling unfortunate but said the administration still supports the plan to close the companies while creating eight new emergency medical units and relocating six units to help fill the gaps.

Fire Commissioner Harold Hairston has said that the number of fires has gone down while the number of medical calls has increased, and the city has to keep up with the shift. Since 1990, he said, there has been a 47 percent drop in the number of fires but an 81 percent increase in medical calls.

Hundreds of firefighters and paramedics marched Tuesday to protest the plan. The state House has approved a bill to require the city to hold public hearings and commission an independent study on the impact of any proposed reductions or eliminations of municipal fire companies.

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