Cutting Fire Protection

Cutting Fire Protection
By:  Carly O’Keefe  

Paducah, KY -- The city of Paducah is a growing community, but city leaders are looking at cutting its fire protection services.

Paducah Mayor Bill Paxton said at the onset of Tuesday night's discussion that the city commissioners recently voted for a tax increase with the understanding that in making such a bold move, they'd have to examine ways to streamline the way the city does business. Cutting fire fighter positions is one avenue they're exploring to make the city run more efficiently with those tax dollars.

A task force of city leaders compiled data in a report weighing the pro's and con's of cutting fire fighter positions through attrition-- that means no one will be fired, but when the fire fighters retire or quit-- the positions will not be filled.

Already steps have been taken to trim operating costs by cutting back on fire department response to false alarms and medical calls where paramedics are already en route. But cutting operating costs won't take a very large chunk out of the department's $5.9 million budget. The largest percentage of the budget is made up of personnel salaries. Cutting nine fire fighter positions could save the city an estimated $623,000 a year.

"It's business like everything else. We need to look at the way we spend money and you can't look at something and say we're not going to look at that. If you do, you're not doing your job. That's what we're here to do. We're here to run a more efficient city," said Paducah City Commissioner Buz Smith.

Some argue it's just not safe in a growing city like Paducah to cut back on protection services.

"You want the city to grow, you want businesses to come here. I believe you're sincere about that. All I ask is that you take the fire department with you," said Paducah Fire Chief Redell Benton.

The proposed cuts would drop the fire department to 60 strong and would mean there would be 17-20 fire fighters per shift to respond to calls versus the current crews of 23. According to fire fighters--crews that size can't protect the city of Paducah during a large blaze or should two fires ignited around the same time---and attempting to do so could put fire fighters at risk.

"All we want is what's best for the citizens of Paducah. I don't get any more money for it. But you know what I do get is hopefully tomorrow morning I go home to my family because there was enough people there to do the job that needed to be done," said International Association of Fire Fighters Local 168 President Barry Carter.

The commissioners did not take a vote on this issue Tuesday. The commissioners plan to review the report and reconvene to further discuss the issue sometime in January. Smith said fire protection is not the only city department the group is looking to trim.