Fire station closures are on the table 

Talks of shuttering five fire stations have emerged as the Fire Department looks to close a growing budget deficit.

The department currently has a $9 million deficit that needs to be closed by the end of June and is anticipating another $13 million in cuts for the next fiscal year.

To address the shortfall, the San Francisco Fire Commission — five appointed civilians who set policy for the Fire Department — will tonight discuss 25 cost-saving recommendations.

Although the Fire Department says it has been assured by Mayor Gavin Newsom’s office that approximately $144 million that goes to fund the operation of firehouses will be exempt from the budget ax, fire commissioners are still tinkering with the idea that five of the lowest-performing stations could be shuttered.

The recommendations before the commission will be voted on and passed to Chief Joanne Hayes-White, who must prepare a list of cuts for Newsom.

Another suggestion on the list is halting the random drug and alcohol testing of firefighters, a practice that has been in place since a 2005 lawsuit challenged the lax policies of supervisors. Since its inception, only two firefighters have failed testing.

A proposal to sell the historic chief’s residence is also on the table. The home is designed to house the current fire chief, but has been used over the years to provide temporary housing to city officials.

But the most controversial suggestion is closing fire stations. The idea of browning out stations — the practice of temporarily closing firehouses — flared up during the budget negotiations last fiscal year, when city officials were working to close a $438 million budget deficit.

The last time The City closed down fire stations on a rotating basis, it saved approximately $6 million per year, according to a city controller’s report. The closures in 2004 were also accompanied by a debate about whether The City has too many fire stations. A controller’s report from that time recommended consolidating stations to save $13 million.

In 2005, however, voters approved Proposition F, a ballot measure that supports the continued funding of the 42 stations in The City. The ordinance does not force city officials to spend money on staffing the firehouses, however, according to language that was on the ballot.


Snuffing out the budget deficit

Some of the cost-saving measures proposed by the Fire Commission:

Payment from Presidio for fire services ($1.1 million-$1.2 million)

Outsource vehicle maintenance

Change firefighter workweek hours

Eliminate drug testing

Sell or renovate the chief’s residence

Review premium pay

Charge for fireboat rides

Sell the air rights over Station 13 ($5 million)

Look into sick pay abuse

Reduce fire houses by 10 percent, from 42 to 37

Source: San Francisco Fire Commission

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