The Portsmouth Fire Department fire chief warns residents of longer response times and a less-effective force actually fighting the fires.
“When (City) Council came and told us we had to cut 20 percent from our budget earlier this year, I said, ‘Do you realize what you are saying?’” Portsmouth Fire Chief Bill Raison said as he sat in his office on the second floor of the Central Fire Station. “‘Do you realize the gutting of emergency services that is going to take place under that?’ That is a tremendous amount to cut, and it would have meant cutting personnel and cutting services drastically.”
Raison is quick to add that the Portsmouth Fire Department has already cut services and personnel through attrition.
“That was going to be laying people off and making really drastic cuts in services and I applaud Council and the mayor, actually, for being willing to say to the emergency services that they are not going to hold us to that 20 percent,” Raison said. “We’re going to cut as much as we can. And we are going to cut services. But we’re not going to gut them.”
The city closed the Hilltop Fire Station on 17th Street, which slowed response times to such place as Southern Ohio Medical Center, Hill View Retirement Community and Wayne Hills.
Firefighters must now respond from the Central facility on Gallia Street.
“It may be hard for people to understand just what difference even a couple of minutes makes,” Raison said. “You’ve got one room on fire or you’ve got two or three rooms, or the whole house, or the house next door on fire.”
Raison said the loss of the Hilltop station will hinder response times such as those at last year’s house fire at Grant Street and Grandview Avenue.
“Fortunately, the Hilltop truck got their quickly and stopped that fire as it was already spreading to the neighbor’s house,” Raison said. “You take that station away so that you don’t have that early response — you don’t have that quick protection of the exposure — that house next door is potentially lost as well.”
Recently, the question arose at a City Council meeting as to why the city needs positions such as assistant chief and captain when responding to a fire.
“The captain on the ladder truck is not an administrative position,” Raison said. “People have that misconception. We have all of these ranking officers, so who is putting out the fires? It’s those ranking officers, because they are leading the team.”
Raison said it is important to note that the National Fire Protection Association, which fire departments use as their measuring stick, calls for a minimum of four personnel per ladder truck. Currently, the City of Portsmouth has two people per truck; yet, they are still required to perform 22 functions that in major cities many more personnel can work on while others fight the fire. In Portsmouth, the firefighters have to do several jobs, which means it takes more time to put the fire out.
Raison said, with the income tax increase, a family that makes $40,000 a year would pay an additional $240 a year, which translates into $20 a month.
Chris Lowery, a captain on the Portsmouth Fire Department, said someone making $25,000 a year would be paying 43 cents per day.
“The big question is — if this doesn’t pass, unlike the federal government — you can’t just raise the debt ceiling and decide we’re going to borrow more money to continue to fund these services,” Raison said. “So what are we going to do?”
FRANK LEWIS may be reached at (740) 353-3101, ext. 232, or firstname.lastname@example.org.