MFD considers brownouts to save $$$ - FOX13 News, WHBQ FOX 13

MFD considers brownouts to save $$$

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (FOX13) -

As he and his staff struggle to find cost cutting measures Memphis Fire Services Director Alvin Benson could be pondering a plan to temporarily shut down fire stations instead of paying overtime.

Brownouts could close fire stations for no more than 24 hours while manpower is deployed to busier locations.

While it's only an idea here, brownouts have become a practice some urban fire departments are already using.

In June, the Miami-Dade Fire Department has for the last month conducted rolling brownouts, shutting down various fire stations for 24 hours, taking trucks off the street, and redeploying personnel designed to cut costs.

Will the controversial procedure be given a shot to work in the Bluff City?

Once upon a time when the world was younger, the sacred cows of public safety -- our police and fire departments -- annually tromped like insatiable brontosauruses all over the financial landscape of the Memphis city budget.

But, now forced to deal with an edict from city council to look for cost-saving alternatives, the department heads' assignments are to budgetarily slim down more to raptor size for fiscal year 2014 in doing as much with less.

For the fire division, that reportedly could include exploring the possibility of shuttering selected fire station locations for 24 hours at a time, if they are low on personnel, and temporarily shifting those working there to busier spots. The practice is called brownouts and it's been shown to save money in other cities.

"So you have to deploy your personnel and that's where the brownout thing comes in," Mayor A C Wharton said. "It may impact one piece of equipment, but, it does not result in any closing of the facilities."

"If there's a reduction in head count, if there's a reduction in firefighters," added Chief Benson. "There is a corresponding reduction in the number of trucks that are on the street and or fire stations that we can staff."

"It deals with a chronic absenteeism," Mayor Wharton added. "If the director is budgeting for roughly 28 absentees and when he's running at 35, that's a big chunk."

"If a person's off, a firefighter's off, we have to call in an off-duty firefighter to actually serve in that person's position while they're off," Chief Benson said. "So, we have a dollar amount that's budget for overtime. That dollar amount will in essence go down."

Remember those brontosaurus days? Just four years ago, before Chief Benson became chief, fire services overtime costs during one six-month period ran more than $6 million.

While Mayor Wharton says brownouts are just in the option category Chief Benson is considering, the mayor insists talks continue on the fate of Fire Station No. 6, which its controversial closure has been delayed. Last week council members were told to keep the North Memphis station open would cost $1.1 million.

"Don't have a solution yet, but by the end of the 30-day period we will be able to tell the council whether we were able to find a solution," Mr. Wharton said.

Yes, it's all about the gigantic cost of public safety, a financial burden for cities like Memphis which could be headed the way of the dinosaur.

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