Cutting firefighters is not a smart move

Posted: Sunday, February 13, 2000

Firefighters are in a unique profession. We train them, pay them, provide them with equipment - and then hope we never need them.

But unfortunately, often times we do. In 1998 alone, the Capital City Fire/Rescue departments responded to 2,787 calls, according to an evaluation report by Emergency Services Consulting Group. Of those, 2,080 were medical or rescue-related and 707 were fire-related.

That's a lot; and it's at those times we're glad our firefighters - both career staff and volunteer - are around.

So it obviously makes us sit up and take notice when the Juneau Airport board says it wants to cut the amount it pays the city for fire and rescue services by $180,000. What that means is the potential to lay off three firefighters and possibly move the Glacier Fire Hall.

What the airport board is proposing is to change the airport's Federal Aviation Administration safety index rating. Under the airport's current rating, two aircraft rescue firefighting trucks are required for response. Changing the safety index rating from a ``C'' to a ``B'' rating would mean only one truck would be needed, and therefore less personnel.

The safety index is based on a number of factors, including length of aircraft that land and depart from the airport. The evaluation report noted that with the reduction in service of a major carrier to Juneau, the airport qualifies for the lower rating, although it would be a ``minimum standard.''

The report also noted the smaller air carriers and non-aeronautic operations support the lower rating because it would result in lower airport fees. The former airport manager, however, opposed the change.

That same report also said such a move would have a detrimental impact on the Valley area. ``Should the airport board adopt the Index B rating, the reduction of staffing at the Glacier station would have a direct affect on the level of service provided to the valley area.'' At another point the report said such a move would ``adversely impact service levels.''

In 1998, the Glacier fire station responded to 270 fire incidents and 1,166 emergency medical services incidents, the report said.

While we applaud the airport board's attempts to cut costs, this is not the way to do it. We believe we should do more than meet ``minimal standards,'' especially when public safety is concerned.

We urge Juneau Assembly members to step up to the plate and reject the airport board's budget change. And if the assembly does go with the proposal, then it is paramount the assembly find money to keep those targeted firefighters. Either way, the current proposal cannot stand.

The chief goal of any governing body is to ensure the health and safety of the public. Cutting firefighters is not the way to ensure that safety, especially when such actions would have a direct impact on the fire and rescue services of our largest populated area.

We hope we never need our firefighters, but we're always glad to see them when we do. It's one of the few areas where no one every says there are too many - especially when they are needed.

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