UPDATE: Fire Department slashes service level due to "significant" budget error

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Squad 11, a two-person team the runs first response to medical calls, has been  shut down in the southeast part of the city. The nearest squad now is Squad 8, located near Airport Road and Academy Boulevard. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • Squad 11, a two-person team the runs first response to medical calls, has been shut down in the southeast part of the city. The nearest squad now is Squad 8, located near Airport Road and Academy Boulevard.

UPDATE:
Mayor John Suthers said in a statement the Fire Department will "effective immediately" restore service by Squad 11 in the southeast sector of the city.

His full statement:
I was briefed today by Chief Collas about the full scope of the fire department’s budget issues and that projected expenditures may exceed the 2019 budget. We also discussed the department’s plan to meet those budget requirements by the end of the year. CSFD has developed several solutions designed to have the least impact to public safety services citywide. After our discussion today, the fire department will reinstate Squad 11 in southeast Colorado effective immediately.

———————-ORIGINAL POST 11:25 A.M., FRIDAY, SEPT. 13, 2019—————————

Colorado Springs firefighters are crying foul over service cuts, including the dismantling of Squad 11 that makes just under 3,000 runs a year in the city's southeast sector, triggered by a recent discovery of a "significant error" in the Fire Department's 2019 budget.

In a release issued Sept. 13, the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 5 (the union) said the cuts will "negatively affect the fire department's service delivery" and have a "possibly dangerous impact."



We've asked the city for a comment, and will update when we hear something. But it's worth noting that Mayor John Suthers didn't even hint at the cuts during his State of the City address on Sept. 12, which was interrupted several times by protesters decrying the police shooting of 19-year-old DeVon Bailey on Aug. 3 in the city's southeast sector.

According to a source, the cuts were announced to top fire personnel on Sept. 5 and already have gone into practice.

The budget shortfall could reach $1.5 million due to an "oversight," Local 5's release said.

"In an attempt to offset this significant financial shortfall, the Fire Chief [Ted Collas] has taken drastic measures that will have a negative and possibly dangerous impact on how the fire department provides service," the release said.
Among the cuts:



• Shutting down Squad 11, the Advanced Life Support Paramedic unit on the Southeast side at Jet Wing Drive and Academy Boulevard. The squad made 2,673 runs in 2017 and 2,810 in 2018, according to a source. The suspension of Squad 11 will "increase response times during medical emergencies," Local 5 said.

• Reassigning staff from positions such as captain of emergency management, training division captain, medical lieutenant, and public information officer to serve on fire crews at stations.

• Cancelling mandated training for specialized personnel, such as in hazardous materials.

• Cancelling fall Paramedic School for firefighters seeking to become Advanced Life Support providers, which Local 5 says will hinder the department’s ability to recover from a continued paramedic shortage.

Mayor Suthers discussing the 2019 budget in October 2018. He didn't mention the cuts during his Sept. 12 State of the City Address. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Mayor Suthers discussing the 2019 budget in October 2018. He didn't mention the cuts during his Sept. 12 State of the City Address.
Regarding Squad 11, Local 5's release stated, "[R]esidents on the southeast part of town may have to wait longer for a paramedic fire unit when their loved one has a dire medical need. The Colorado Springs Firefighters believe this reduction of service is unacceptable."

But City Councilor Yolanda Avila, who represents the southeast District 4, was circumspect when told of the cuts on Sept. 13 by the Indy. (She acknowledged no one from the city had yet informed her of the service changes.)

"On the surface it doesn't sound good," she says. "Before I make a statement, I need to see the whole story and what the facts are. Sometimes it looks different when I do more digging."

Councilor Don Knight also was caught off guard by the firefighters' release, and noted Council's budget committee met on Sept. 10 but the cuts weren't discussed.

Local 5 noted the cut of Squad 11 is in direct conflict with the department's mission of providing the highest quality of problem solving, fire and rescue service.

From the release:
Despite this isolated and internal event within the fire department, this occurrence brings to light a larger systemic issue ... making public safety a continued priority. As the city grows, the fire department must grow accordingly. Our economy is the best it has been since the Great Recession. Yet, the Colorado Springs Fire Department continues to operate at recession level staffing numbers. As residents of Colorado Springs, this should concern you. A basic tenet of government is public safety. Every politician claims that public safety is a priority. With budget discussions for 2020 around the corner, we will see how much of a priority public safety truly is. If things stay status quo, the fire department's service delivery will remain compromised.
Local 5 proposed collective bargaining for its ranks in the April 2019 city election, but voters soundly defeated the measure after Suthers campaigned vigorously at service clubs and in radio and TV ads.

He and Council pledged to add firefighters, but it's unclear how many new positions have been hired.

During the April election campaign, firefighters asserted that by the end of 2019, the department would have 451 assigned firefighters, two fewer positions than in 2008. While plans call for adding 12 for the Cimarron Hills Fire Protection District, the union said in its statement "We [are] fundamentally still short of where we were 12 years ago."

We'll update if and when we hear back from the city and other City Council members.

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