Budget cuts could mean fire station closings

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Stacy McCormack had a close call two years ago when a fire grew dangerously near her St. Nicholas home.

But luckily she lives right around the corner from Fire Station 12. Firefighters came quickly and put the flames out within minutes.

"It's a tremendous comfort," McCormack said.

But now she's worried about her safety because of budget cuts. The city is facing a $60 million shortfall, and firefighters and city leaders have failed to agree on pension reform.

If a budget deal isn't reached, many are worried the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department will take a huge hit and have to close several local fire stations.

"Coming out of the chief's office, there is already talk of closing eight stations," fire union President Randy Wyse said. "It would be a massive impact to public safety."

Wyse said while nothing is set in stone, just the talk of cutting the Fire-Rescue budget is frightening.

"It's going to expand response times unbelievably, and there will be people sitting around waiting to get to them when they need help," Wyse said.

"You can see what's at stake right now," Mayor Alvin Brown said. "If we don't have retirement reform, we'll have a $60 million shortfall. That's a major shortfall."

The mayor says he's faced with a tough task, but he's submitted a plan to the City Council that he hopes will keep the cuts to a minimum without raising taxes.

"I think at the end of the day we presented a plan that is going to be fair to the taxpayers, fair to city employees," Brown said. "So you have a choice, and so I'm optimistic that we are not going to have to cut 14 percent."

The mayor says he has to submit his final budget plan by July 15.

JFRD Fire Chief Marty Senterfitt was unavailable for comment Wednesday.

If any fire stations were to close, firefighters would not be at risk of losing their job. They're protected by the union and would be reassigned to other areas of the department.

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