St. Pete Fire & Rescue trimmed budget $600,000 by ending overtime pay for firefighters

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - Chris Gordon has driven Squad 1 for about six years. 

"I know where all the levers are, where all the controls are," he said.

 

Because he knows the St. Petersburg Fire & Rescue truck so well, he's able to combine speed and safety in a way he's no longer guaranteed.

 

"I might think I'm going to be on this unit, but when our shift starts, it was never really going to happen," he said.

 

Squad 1 has remained parked for tens, sometimes hundreds, of hours a month while Gordon fills in on other trucks.

 

"We don't have any fat in the Fire Department," said SPFR Chief Jim Large. "We've cut for the last 6 years."

 

Chief Large has trimmed $600,000 from his department's budget for the last two years and now expects a third. To do so, he chose "Brown Outs", which means no overtime for fire fighters.

 

When staffing dips below 73 fire fighters on any given day, the on-duty firefighters have to fill in the gaps, while the trucks where they normally work sit idle.

 

Reorganizing the rescues can take several extra minutes in a job where every second counts.

 

St. Petersburg Association of Firefighters President Michael Blank says it's risky if not dangerous, with too few firefighters and equipment necessary for safety. 

 

"We've gotten lucky," Blank said.

 

SPFR has already cut staff by 30 jobs. Gordon is still thankful he has his, even if his truck doesn't always have hers.

 

"We're to the point now where whatever we cut is going to have an impact on service delivery," said Chief Large. "This has the least pain, if you will."

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