Fire engine going back into service

DOWNEY - Downey officials announced Tuesday that a fire engine shut down last summer due to budget cuts will be put back in service after the city secured a $1.8 million FEMA grant. The money will be used to hire nine firefighters to man Engine 61 out of Fire Station 1 on Paramount Boulevard. The city is also filling three previously open positions for a total of 12 new firefighters. All new hires will be EMT-Ps, meaning they are cross-trained as firefighters and paramedics.

The fire engine is expected to be back on Downey streets no later than July 1, officials said.

News of the grant approval broke Tuesday afternoon and Mayor Mario Guerra made the announcement at that night's council meeting to loud applause.

Facing an $11 million budget deficit, council members shut down the fire engine July 1, a move that saved Downey $1.8 million but increased firefighter response times throughout the city. It also prompted the fire union to begin a push to disband the Downey Fire Department and bring in the more robust L.A. County Fire.

Budget cuts had reduced total fire personnel from 63 in 2011 to 54 today, union leaders said. The union also agreed to reduced medical and retirement benefits.

Firefighters are gathering signatures for a potential charter amendment that would take away residents' right to decide a move to L.A. County fire and police services. Instead, the fire union prefers the decision be made by the city council. It's unclear if this latest news will change the fire union's stance.

"Public safety is and will remain a high priority for our city and I want to extend my gratitude to Fire Chief Lonnie Croom and his staff for their hard work in securing this grant," Guerra said in a statement. "During my swearing-in last December, I stated that one of my goals as mayor was to find a way to bring back our fire engine and I am proud that we will be able to accomplish this."

"We are extremely pleased to have been successful in being a recipient of this FEMA grant and look forward to providing the quality of service that our community deserves," added Croom.

City officials admitted the FEMA grant is only a stop-gap and council members will need to find additional revenue sources to continuing funding the fire engine heading into the next fiscal year.

The giant Tierra Luna retail development at Downey Studios will include a new fire station and is expected to generate several million dollars in additional yearly tax revenue but that project is still in its early stages.

********** Published: January 10, 2013 - Volume 11 - Issue 39