In an effort to conserve money it was recently decided to close the city of Portsmouth's Hilltop Fire Station. Personnel and equipment were moved to the central fire station. Since the station closed the response time to the area has doubled.
"We have stations placed in different areas of the city, for response time. Those are not your main body of fireman on the scene, that's your initial response for house protection, exposure protection for neighboring houses, victim rescue and simply just putting water on a fire. When you take that away, that really hinders our time," Portsmouth Fire Department (PFD) Caption Chris Lowery said. "You've got Wayne Hills next door to the hilltop station, I can tell you in the last 12 years since I've been here there have been a fire there at least four times. This next time might not be so good,"
Lowery explained that hilltop and the Sciotoville stations are two man stations. He said Ohio Fire Code recommends stations be manned with four firefighters.
"Our two men are very effective on putting a stop on a fire, getting people to safety and protecting exposure until our central station arrives," Lowery said. "The closure of the hilltop station greatly effects our response time. Now we have increased danger to our guys. We may close a station, but our guys are going to do everything they can to get there as fast as they can."
"Ultimately we can't snap our fingers and be on the back end of Mabert road in three minutes anymore. From hilltop station you could be on Wayne Hills putting water on a fire before guys from central station are even in the area," Lowery said.
Lowery used the farthest points in the city as an example. The backside of Mabert road and in Indian hills.
"Hilltop engine three could be there in two to three minutes. (With the closure of the hilltop station) we've likely increased that by another three minutes," Lowery said. He also pointed out that fire doubles every minute. "So, we just doubled a fire. We went from containing it (fire) to a room to doing everything we can to control exposure to the neighboring homes."
Lowery said since the response time has doubled to certain locations it's not good for anyone within the city.
"This is not good for our safety, because now we are pulling up on a more involved fire. It's not good for our people because, even though we know we are at a disadvantage because we are further away from the fire, we are still going to do everything we can to contain the fire. We have a great group of guys here who want to do good things for the citizens," Lowery said.
"Day one when we closed the hilltop station and brought those guys down here we emphasized tactics. We had to change our tactics, because our guys are so good and was so comfortable being a two man station," Lowery said. "Now our tactics has changed. If Sciotoville has a fire we'll leave a minimum manning at the central station and send the rest of the guys for help."
To complicate matters ODOT has begun a paving project on U.S. Route 52 that is expected to last months and reduce traffic down to one lane at points.
"With the construction there it could really hamper our services to that community. I have no doubt in my mind the two men at the Sciotoville station will do everything they possible can to save lives first and to protect exposure second and to save property contents third," Lowery said.
The central station now houses the crew from the hilltop station, central station crew and part of the Portsmouth Police Department.
"Residents should be assured our guys will do everything they possibly can to get to anywhere within the city limits as quick as they can," Lowery said.
The voters of Portsmouth will be asked if they would like to see an increase in the cities income tax to help fund the police and fire departments. The issue will be on the May primary.
Lowery also serves as the chairman of the levy committee for the fire department union.
He said if voters say yes to the increase the fire department is expected to reopen the hilltop station.
"We've had to cut our budget so much that we've done away with things that we're annually required to do. We've done without a lot already," Lowery said.
"We're willing to make some concessions this year. With the new budget cuts, we've lost a station (hilltop), response time has been cut in the city of Portsmouth. We now have the hilltop station running out of the central station, Tony Hamilton, President of the Firefighters Local 512 said in a previous interview. "The firefighters come together and come up with another memorandum of understanding not contingent upon any other union in the city. Our membership has voted to concessions contingent on the guarantee there will be no layoffs within the fire department. We are willing to change our monthly contributions to our health care to $200 per family and $100 for single. We are also willing to forgo our 2011 uniform allowance."
Hamilton said the city should see savings around $90,000 in 2011.