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Pressure Is On Fort Worth City Leaders Over Proposed Budget

FORT WORTH (CBS 11 NEWS) - Fort Worth has a plan to avoid understaffed fire houses due to budget cuts without more money or manpower.

The new plan would shift staff from other areas in the department to cover vacancies in the fire houses.  But a fire fighters union representative said over a long period of time the plan could affect fire prevention and training programs.  Which is why city planners are hoping its just a short-term solution.

But city leaders felt compelled to do something after a huge public backlash over cuts which would have left a handful of stations with half their normally staffed fire engines.

"It cropped up with a bigger effect than we figured and we just misjudged it," Mayor Betsy Price said. "But, at least we were able to work together on it."

The proposed cuts would have meant that at times, fire stations with two engines would only have the staff to man one engine. The fire department estimated average response times would have gone up by nearly a minute.  A campaign sponsored by the Fort Worth Fire Fighters association soon had city hall inundated with mailed-in complaints.

The pressure was on city leaders to make changes.

So the fire chief decided any firefighter who isn't currently serving on a fire truck will now report to a fire station to start fighting fires.

"That would be some of our training staff, some of our fire prevention training staff, some of the bomb and arson staff, they will move them back and start putting them on fire trucks," said David Dodson, director of intergovernmental affairs for the Fort Worth Fire Fighters Association.

For the pressured city leadership and worried public that means, "No brown outs and no deactivation of trucks," Mayor Price said.

But for the fire department it means a new set of headaches. They're having to cover 24 unfunded positions.  They'll have to sacrifice in other areas to keep the fire stations fully staffed.

"On the positive side, is nothing is going to change as far as response," Dodson said.  "The downside of it is is our fire safety education program for the kids is going to suffer. Our inspection program is going to suffer. Our training is going to suffer."

But Mayor Price said the council will visit the issue again in January.  They hope by then the fire department will have gained new fire fighters from the training academy and the city will have seen better than projected tax revenues to help make up the budget shortfall.

(©2013 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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