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Budget Shortfall Forces 'Change of Direction' For Metro Fire Department

Budget Shortfall Forces 'Change of Direction' For Metro Fire Department
Posted at 6:13 PM, Aug 20, 2018
and last updated 2018-08-21 13:09:46-04

Nashville's budget shortfall has forced the Metro Fire Department to make cuts.

The department is cracking down on overtime which will force some stations to operate with fewer firefighters especially on weekends.

Station 9 covers downtown Nashville.

Its firefighters and EMTs respond to thousands of fire and medical calls each month.

"Typically, most of the runs are in the downtown area on lower Broadway," said Union President Mark Young.

Their busiest nights are on the weekends, but now Station 9 and other downtown stations will often not be staffed at the same levels they were last year because of Metro's budget shortfall.

"Not only is it going backward it's definitely the wrong time of week to cut personnel," said Young.

A July 19 memo from Fire Chief William Swann states the city's "unforeseen budget shortfalls ... will require a change of direction in regards to how we conduct business."

The policy could reduce the number of firefighters working countywide by up to seven on any given shift because "all overtime will be strictly avoided."

Mark Young said overtime has become the only way to fully staff the department on weekends especially.

"The reason they're having to use overtime is because their hiring practices have been so terrible," Young said.

During Metro budget hearings in March, Fire Chief Swann told Mayor David Briley that the department faces staffing shortages.

"We do have some needs that are musts for our department," Chief Swann said in March

He said on average 35 firefighters are retiring each year.

Vacation time, paid family leave and special events also take a toll on staffing.

"We're asking for 67 more firefighters in the fire suppression division," Swann said.

But not only was the request for new positions denied, Metro told the department to cut an additional $586,000 as part of "targeted savings" for the department.

"Over the years, it's just cut, cut, cut," Young said.

Those cuts come at the same time the number of people and buildings the fire department protects has grown.

Chief Swann's memo details which fire halls will see staffing cuts if needed.

They include shutting down the so called Fast Car at Station 9 and another downtown station.

Fast Cars are SUVs designed to respond quickly to medical calls.

On a busy Saturday night, when thousands attended a downtown concert, we found the Fast Car parked at Station 9, not responding to medical calls. 

"It's sitting parked tonight because of a staffing reduction," Young said.

The station sent its fire engines instead.

"What we're seeing is response times being delayed because of the heavy equipment trying to navigate the traffic," Young said.

At times, the fire hall's huge hook-and-ladder truck has responded to basic medical calls on Broadway.

It forces the truck to try and get through the gridlock downtown.

"A Tahoe would be able to move around traffic a lot quicker," Young said.

The calls also put additional wear and tear on the station's new million-dollar truck.

"I think so many things we've done here in Nashville are beyond the word stupid, and I'll use the word stupid," Metro Councilman Steve Glover said.

Glover has blasted the city for its spending.

He believes the cuts to the fire department are dangerous, and doubts keeping Fast Cars parked really saves money.

"You're going to roll a million-dollar piece of equipment as opposed to a $50,000 piece of equipment," Glover said.

Mark Young wants the public to be aware of what is happening.

"I understand budgets. I understand budget cuts, but let's don't cut public safety," Young said.

The Fast Cars will operate when they can be staffed without using firefighters who are getting overtime.

The fire department said no firefighters are being laid off, and it will re-evaluate its budget situation mid year.

Public information officer of the Nashville Fire Department, Joseph Pleasant, released the following statement:

“The Nashville Fire Department is committed to operating within our budget. The steps we are taking are focused on being good stewards of the taxpayers money while still providing the world-class services the citizens of Davidson County deserve and expect.”