7th & Lehigh shortly before we arrived.

Fire-response times are up, but city says brownouts aren’t to blame.

LAST AUGUST, just five days after the start of a city policy of rolling brownouts at selected fire stations to save money, a 12-year-old boy with autism died in a raging fire in his West Philadelphia home. Although there is no evidence that Frank Marasco’s death was a direct result of the city’s brownout plan – in which about three fire stations are temporarily closed once a week on a rotational basis to save $3.8 million in overtime – his untimely death set off a heated debate about the city’s cuts.

A year later, response times have increased, the Fire Department’s injuries have risen and fire-related civilian deaths are up from the same time last year. But city officials and the fire union disagree over whether those changes are a result of the brownouts. Annual response times for engines and medics last year were the highest in 10 years. Although still below national guidelines, the average engine-response time in 2010 was 4 minutes 53 seconds. As of June this year, that time had increased to 5 minutes. “It is a direct result of the first-in companies being browned-out,” said Bill Gault, president of the firefighters’ union. “The Fire Department is bearing the brunt of these cuts. It’s dangerous to us, and it’s dangerous to civilians.”

City officials insist that the upticks in the department’s injuries and civilian deaths are unrelated to the cost-saving measure. “The brownouts haven’t had a damn thing to do with it,” said Everett Gillison, deputy mayor for public safety. “We used brownouts as a way to deal with the economic crisis. Without the use of brownouts, we would have had a higher number of overtime.”

Gillison said he has not laid off any firefighters. But Rob Dubow, city financial director, said that this past fiscal year, the Fire Department exceeded its $19.3 million overtime budget by $3.9 million. As for the department’s 136 injuries as of June – up from 118 last year – Gillison said that most were not fire-related and that some Philadelphians are not practicing fire-safety prevention. This year, 26 people have died in fires, compared with 33 who died in all of 2010.

“Fortunately for citizens, there hasn’t been a tragic incident that was brownout-related,” said a fire officer who declined to give his name because of fear of reprisal. “Certainly there could have been better response times. Brownouts create large gaps in Fire Department coverage.” Fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers said response times were delayed by severe snowstorms in the winter, not by brownouts.

“So far the brownouts have done what we expected in every area from operations to financial savings,” Ayers said. “We have been able to satisfy our  goals and keep the community protected.” LINK

Ok so here you have the official version of the disaster that has become the Philadelphia Fire Department policy regarding brownouts. As you see the dangerous policies that the Nutter administration has implemented allegedly HAVE NOTHING TO DO with higher deaths, injuries, property damage and expenses. It’s all because of the snow. Uh huh. Riiiiiiight. Whatever. Obviously I can’t publicly dispute the Commissioners position. So everyone else who reads First In can make up their own minds on this one. I chronicle the goings on in my small slice of government as openly and as honestly as I can. (I still have mouths to feed).

What I will tell you is that the Mayors hand-picked bureaucrat and criminal defense lawyer Everett Gillison has ABSOLUTELY NO experience or credentials in emergency services. I’m told he isn’t much of a lawyer either. Yet suddenly he became an expert in a discipline he knows nothing about. Talk about arrogance. You see a lot of that these days in public officials. I’ll put my nearly twenty years on the street of one of the busiest fire departments in the country against his political connections ANY DAY. As you can see from the article he is talking about COST while the story is about RESPONSE TIMES, DEATHS AND INJURIES. He is wrong and doesn’t know what he is talking about nor how to defend these failed policies. The funny thing is no one asks Mr. Gillison about the EXPANSION of the Emergency Management Department (civilians) who do little actual service delivery while at the same time the fire department is being decimated.

Squrt 55’s apparatus in the background-middle can be seen operating on the fireground at 7TH & Lehigh. They had to pack up and leave the fire ground because they were browned out starting the next shift.

Furthermore the reporter who wrote this drivel doesn’t even have command of the basic facts. The opening paragraph say companies are browned out ONCE A WEEK. That is so far off that it borders on NEGLIGENCE. THREE COMPANIES ARE BROWNED OUT (CLOSED) EVERY SHIFT! WE RUN TWO SHIFTS A DAY! That equals SIX COMPANIES A DAY! That equals 42 COMPANIES A WEEK! BIG DIFFERENCE DON’T YOU THINK? Here is an example: At yesterdays four-alarm fire, Squrt 55 had to take up their equipment from the FIRE GROUND because they were BROWNED OUT starting the next shift! How insane is that? Taking a highly specialized fire apparatus OFF THE FIRE GROUND because of budget cutbacks. How does a reporter make that kind of mistake? Maybe ignorance. But maybe they have a vested interest in protecting the Nutter administration. Ya think? There is plenty of evidence brownouts cause slower response times and in this job that’s a killer. They just choose to ignore it, and the media allow it.

The bottom line folks is this- attacking public safety is asinine. I have presented EXAMPLES like the other day where fires have raged and grown larger because of the closing of fire companies. Philadelphia hasn’t got any smaller in my lifetime. It is still a densely packed urban metropolis, with a large poor population. Cutting us to the bone creates an environment where deaths, injuries and response times go up. The exact OPPOSITE of our mission. While you see that response times are always at the center of these discussions, our department HARSHLY DISCIPLINES firefighters and officers who are involved in traffic accidents no matter how small or large. They want it both ways. Response times are critical, but don’t have an accident or you will get crucified. Caught in the middle? The victims, the citizens we are supposed to protect.



  1. Randal Graves says:

    If the response times are due to the snow, then why don’t they post all of the response times in a chart. It would be very easy to see spike in the response times on the days with heavy snowfall. Good luck getting that from the criminals at City Hall.

    “The opening paragraph say companies are browned out ONCE A WEEK.” – I think that the reporter is trying to say is that each individual fire station is only closed once-a-week. (i.e. Engine 3 is only closed 1 time a week.). Poor grammar, not surprising.

    • Randall- Actually I would accept poor grammer. We all have our moments. But in this case it is pure ignorance of the subject that she is writing about. If she did her homework she would understand that some stations house more than one company.

      Each engine and ladder is its own company. So while Squrt 55 is browned out for the night, Ladder 22 (same station) is not. The station is still open. They have no pumper for the shift. Other stations with only one company are effectively closed due to brownouts.

      It sounds a lot different if she says ONLY THREE COMPANIES A WEEK as opposed to OVER FORTY COMPANIES A WEEK. Given the seriousness of the topic accuracy is imperative. We aren’t talking about swimming pools or libraries.

      • Randal Graves says:

        So, technically, she is saying that there are more “stations” closed than there really are; thus, making it sound worse than it really is, technically speaking.

        If you are looking for the most bang for your buck, why don’t you just say over 2000 companies a year?

  2. Actually no. Three companies a SHIFT. (Three trucks, engines / ladders) TWO times a day. Total of SIX COMPANIES a day.

    Now some of those are single engine houses (random selection). These would be totally closed. So in a week you may have 10 or 15 STATIONS totally closed while others would have one company browned out randomly for a shift.

    We operate single and double houses. A single house has only a pumper in it sometimes with an ambulance or Chief.

    Double houses will have an engine and a ladder housed together.
    A FULL HOUSE is like my station. Engine, Ladder Ambulance and Chief.
    Hope that helps.

  3. Cs says:

    I have watched first hand the effect of Q57 being browned out. Yes, surrounding companies can cover an alarm system but when runs start stacking up it makes a difference.

    I watched first hand Ladder 9 sit unmanned for fires they would have covered and companies from other ends of the city get used in its place.

    Its not safe and one day we’ll lose a member to it and I want to see upper mgt blame winter then.

    • That is one angle they constantly refuse to report on- the cover ups.
      For those who don’t know: When there is a working fire (like yesterday) the alarm room attempts to spread out the remaining fire companies to “cover” the areas depleted by the emergency. In effect they move companies around like pieces on a chess board. The effect is to leave whole areas wide open and response time skyrockets. Yesterdays fire used nearly 24 / 25 engines alone. The remaining companies (about 25) had to cover THE ENTIRE CITY! With so many companies being closed and browned out the distances we now have to travel and the ground we are supposed to cover is completely insane. While this fire raged yesterday, my company was sent to another station to cover up. We get hammered with cover ups now due to all the closings. We are always pulled out of our local.

      So as you can see it is just ponzi fire protection.

  4. cs says:

    It’s no different then EMS between the hours of 1800-0200 every night. If the people knew how scant there Emergency Services were I think they would lose there mind. It takes death or poor media coverage to ever get change here so thank you for keeping this issue alive in this small section of the internet.

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