Got a cryptic email yesterday that said someone from Dallas Fire-Rescue would speak to the council today ("if he is allowed") about changes to DFR mentioned in the city manager's budget. Those should ring a bell: A couple of months back we looked at concerns over plans to shuffle some fire engines in anticipation of parking one for good. And if you browsed through this stack of budget memos a couple of weekends ago, you'll have noted a testy Q&A concerning Mary Suhm's proposed alterations to the fire dispatch schedule, intended to save $1 million in overtime pay in the wake of the meet-and-confer agreement reached during the last budget go-round.
I've got a call in to Suhm, and what was proposed isn't yet set in stone: Council members will present their proposed budget amendments at Monday's budget workshop, and, if need be, there will be a follow-up during Wednesday's council briefing. And some council members have been meeting with DFR reps to discuss the suggested changes; it's all still very up in the air.
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But, as promised, two DFR employees did show up to make their case to council today, including 16-year veteran Garret Lucero, who called the proposals "a disaster in the making" and said that to "reduce minimum staffing and to reduce a front-line truck is playing Russian roulette" with the public's safety.
He compared it to staffing a Walmart, as in: Sure, he said, you could fire a few cashiers to save money, but in the long run that leads to "long wait times and disgruntled customers" who'll take their business elsewhere, "and did you really save money?" He said that the city can reduce the number of dispatchers on duty and take away that truck, "but if a mother calls 911 because she has a choking baby, she'll have longer hold times, and she can't take her business elsewhere."
He addressed the $1 million in savings mentioned in the budget and insisted, "We're going to save $1 million, not through overtime but through reduced minimum staffing. The only way that million can be realized is by reducing the staffing in fire dispatch," which would be hard to deal with, he insisted, given that DFR receives "6.500 calls per dispatcher per year."
Said Lucero to the council, "Each of you has made a commitment to your neighborhoods and citizens to protect them, and by voting for this budget you're doing them a grave disservice. What do you do when citizens call you about long hold times? ... What do you say when citizens call you about minutes lost and lives lost because of those [extra] minutes. Please don't vote for this. Vote no for this. It's a vote for the citizens in your district."