City Of Houston Denies Bail Out Of Fire Department's Projected $8 Million Shortfall

Houston Fire Chief Terry Garrison and Houston Finance Director Kelly Dowe listen to council members discuss HFD's multi-million dollar deficit.
The City of Houston says it won't bail the fire department out of a budget crisis and HFD will have to figure out how to balance the books on its own. Council members hope any reduction in service won’t affect public safety.

Members of Houston's Budget and Fiscal Affairs Committee voted 7-3 not to approve any more money and instead, recommended the fire department find more ways to overcome the $8.5 million dollar deficit.

Houston Fire Chief Terry Garrison says it won't be easy.

"We'll look at companies that are actually ... we'll look at the response volumes, but then we'll also look at where will the help come if they're not there."

The shortage of firefighters has resulted in overtime that he says cannot be avoided, but assured council members that the department will continue to deliver services to the city.

"If we needed four members off, we would just take that unit and that would be parked there for the day. We want to keep our ambulances in service, but it would be one less paramedic on a paramedic response unit, which is a squad which is a non-response unit."

Since 85% of the calls on average involve EMTs, Garrison says cuts will come from the basic life support units and not the advanced life support units.

Council Member Dave Martin says the resolution calls for HFD to find a way to overcome the deficit.

"You have $417 million dollars. You're not go to spend $418, because every year they come back at this time a year and ask us for more money. It's a lack of accountability by the Houston Fire Department's management in budgeting the dollars necessary to run their department."

By putting fire trucks out of service, some councilmembers expressed concern that any more cuts might affect the department's ability to deliver adequate services to the city.

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Pat Hernandez

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Pat Hernandez is a general assignments reporter who joined the KUHF news staff in February of 2008...