Cincinnati leaders propose plan to reduce fire department 'brownouts'


CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - City leaders announced a measure on Sunday to nearly eliminate brownouts in Cincinnati fire departments.

Brownouts are daily closures of fire companies that reduce staff to meet budget allocations. 41 new fire recruits graduated on Friday, and with the increase in personnel, Fire Chief Richard Braun is proposing the city reduce the average daily brownouts from its current five per day to a maximum of two.

Brownouts are criticized because they could increase response time to an emergency if the nearest fire company is under a brownout. Out of the 40 Cincinnati companies, five are typically browned daily. It is a practice Mayor John Cranley does not support and referred to as "life or death matters."

Cincinnati response times are currently below the national average and the department does not meet the minimum response time required by the National Protection Agency because of the brownouts.

President of Cincinnati Firefighter's Union Matt Alter says that for every 30 to 60 seconds a fire remains untouched, it doubles in size, which is why short response times really matter.

Alter cites a College Hill fire last year that took 11 minutes for the arrival of the first engine because the nearest responding company was on another call for a browned out unit. A further company on Spring Grove Avenue had to respond to the fire. He says this is only one of multiple occasions brownouts have increased response times.

Mayor John Cranley, Council member Christopher Smitherman, the chair of City Council's public safety committee, and Council member Kevin Flynn held a conference call Sunday with the media where they relayed their support for Chief Braun's proposal.

Along with the new recruit class of 41 firefighters, if the current overtime budget of $2.5 million is maintained, Cranley said that brownouts will be significantly reduced.

At a press conference tomorrow, Mayor Cranley and Chief Braun will ask City Council to approve Braun's report and send it to the City Manager to be drafted in to budget. If the City Manager then overlooks council's support and reduces the overtime budget funding, brownouts will remain at about five per day.

The city has applied for a grant that would further eliminate the need for brownouts by paying all expenses for a new class of recruits. They will find out if the grant was received within the month.

Without the grant, Brownouts can still be reduced as planned pending the overtime budget remains in place, according to Cranley.

Brownouts in Cincinnati were implemented by the previous administration in 2009. They began to stretch resources to fill holes in the budget and were intended to be a temporary measure.

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