Philadelphia City Council Urges Mayor To Reconsider Closing Fire Stations

Several City Council members are urging Mayor Street to rethink his controversial plan to close four Fire Department ladder companies and four engine companies to save the city nearly $7 million.

Council President Anna C. Verna and Council members Darrell L. Clarke and Frank DiCicco question the effect the cuts, which have temporarily been put on hold by a judge, will have on public safety.

"I don't want to pinch pennies on something as important as fire safety," Clarke said.

At the urging of Clarke and DiCicco, Verna had planned on having Council spend from $90,000 to more than $100,000 to hire a consultant to review the administration's plans.

"When we're talking about public safety, I think we all want to feel extremely confident," Verna said.

But the consultant needed access to Fire Department records and personnel, and the administration refused to cooperate. So, for now, the Council members have put their idea on hold.

"We don't think it's necessary," said Philip R. Goldsmith, the city's managing director.

Goldsmith said the administration was confident in its plan, drafted by former Fire Commissioner Harold B. Hairston, who retired last month after nearly 40 years of service. Hairston recommended the cuts at the mayor's request.

"Are we going to be doing studies every time the administration exercises its managerial rights?" Goldsmith asked.

In response to critics, Goldsmith said, the administration has hired its own consultant, Emergency Services Consulting Inc., based in Wilsonville, Ore., for $6,000 to review Hairston's recommendations.

But Thomas O'Drain, president of Local 22 of the International Association of Fire Fighters, the city firefighters' union, said a thorough study would usually cost more than $100,000 for a city the size of Philadelphia.

"They want somebody to come in here and just agree with them," he said. "That's why it's so cheap."

Both DiCicco and Clarke said they believed Hairston's recommendations were driven more by city budget constraints than by safety.

The spat between the Council members and the mayor comes as administration officials prepare to go to arbitration and then before the state Labor Relations Board to defend their right to make the cuts.

City officials had planned to close the fire companies July 1, but were blocked when Common Pleas Court Judge Matthew D. Carrafiello temporarily forbade the city from making the cuts pending the outcome of grievance and arbitration proceedings requested by Local 22.

Officials from the city and Local 22 are expected to begin arbitration next month, O'Drain said.

Although the administration plans to close the eight companies, the firehouses will remain open, staffed by emergency medical or other personnel. The city does not plan to lay off firefighters.

The administration plans to close engine companies at 711 S. Broad St., Fourth and Arch Streets, Belgrade and Ontario Streets, and Ridge Avenue and Cinnaminson Street. It plans to close ladder companies at 1541 Parrish St., Fourth and Arch Streets, 12th and Reed Streets, and Belgrade and Huntingdon Streets.

A ladder company specializes in rescues and consists of a fire vehicle with a ladder staffed by one officer and four firefighters with such equipment as the Jaws of Life extraction device. An engine company carries water to extinguish fires. It has a fire engine staffed by one officer and three firefighters.

The administration also plans to create eight emergency medical units that would operate 12 hours a day and to relocate six Fire Department units to help fill the gaps left by its plan.