The planned Aug. 1 closing of North Memphis Fire Station No. 6 has been delayed for a month after a decision Tuesday from the city council's public safety committee.
The committee heard protests from impassioned members of the North Memphis community who live near Station No. 6. The plight of the fire station grabbed the spotlight away from the city's police and fire directors, who made a joint appearance in front of the committee.
You could call it a reversal of fortune. Normally it's Memphis firefighters who assume the roles of brave rescuers seeking to help people out of trouble. But at city hall it was a band of mostly elderly citizens who joined forces to flex their political muscle in an effort to save a unit of firefighters from being ousted from their home.
They came to City Hall to speak their mind about the scheduled closing of their beloved Fire Station No. 6. Nina Williamson was among those on hand who blatantly reminded a city council committee that once you're elected don't ever forget who put you there.
"We never see anybody until it's time to vote," she said. "So, now if you can't do anything for me during the time when it's not election time. Why in the hell do I need to vote for you when it is election time?"
In an emotional and tense meeting of the council's public safety committee, the grim forecasts of budget-inflicted troubled times ahead for both the police department and the city's fire services was upstaged by those who want to avoid the closing of the neighborhood fire station that was scheduled to be shuttered in two weeks.
Fire Chief Alvin Benson, who made the decision in order to comply with budget restrictions requiring cuts be made, said his department's sacrifices have been painful.
"We had a strategic plan over the last three years where we reduce the size of this fire department," Chief Benson said. "We literally took six trucks off the street. Men and women took cuts, not only just a pay cut. They lost promotional opportunities. If I take a truck off the street, those are promotional opportunities that are gone."
More predicted "doom and gloom" came from Police Director Toney Armstrong. He directly responded to previous reports that as many as three precincts could be closed due to the loss of $6 million in the department's budget.
"I'll be honest with you and I tell you now, next year more than likely if things do not improve there are three precincts that I am looking at, two in particular - Raines Station and Mt. Moriah Station," Director Armstrong said. "It's getting extremely difficult to do that and adequately staff nine precincts, all of our investigative bureaus, when we have no additional officers walking in the door."
But, for the majority of those in attendance, Director Armstrong's problems eventually took a back seat to the fate of a venerable fire station.
"Mr. Mayor, you are the CAO of the city, the chief executive CEO," said Councilman Joe Brown. "Respectfully, Fire Station No. 6 is not to be closed."
In the end, compromise would finally take command as the station's closing was postponed for 30 days. Meanwhile, Mayor A C Wharton will work on a solution to come up with the $1.1 million needed to keep the facility running.
Community rallies to stop closing of Fire Station 6
Wharton speaks out on police and fire cuts
City budget cuts force closure of MFD Station No. 6