MIAMI (CBSMiami) – In an effort to save money this year, Miami-Dade Fire Rescue has begun ‘rolling brownouts’.
On Monday, at least 10 fire engines and emergency vehicles were taken out of service from Homestead to North Miami.
The county plans to randomly shut down different trucks at different stations for a 24 hour period until the start of the new budget year on October 1st.The fire fighters who normally work on the truck that is taken out of service will be assigned to different stations where fire fighters have called out sick.
By doing this, the department will not have to pay overtime to cover sick personnel.
Rowan Taylor, president of the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 1403, said by taking 10 units out of service, the county has put residents at risk.
“We have a serious concern about the safety of the community today,” said Taylor. “If you have an emergency in your community, that could mean the difference between life and death.”
The county said if the units were left in service the fire rescue department would end the year in the ‘red’ which they are not allowed to do under state law.
Last week, in a move unrelated to the brownouts, Mayor Carlos Gimenez recommended and the commission approved a budget which did not include an increase in the property tax rate.
Gimenez proposed closing a $50 million shortfall by laying-off 149 fire rescue workers and taking six fire units out of service. The county would also close more than 20 library locations and eliminating 250 library workers.
The units being taken out of service during the rolling brownouts are not the ones targeted for closure under the proposed budget.
The mayor and the commission have an eight day window to reconsider an increase in the tax rate and preserve fire services at their current level.
“We ask the community to reach out to commissioners, reach out to the mayor. They have another opportunity to resolve this,” said Taylor.
“This is a budgetary issue. You saw that, what we all saw last week. We were given a mandate and because of that mandate this is the result of it,” said Miami-Dade Assistant Fire Chief Louie Fernandez.
Taylor added that if money can’t be found to stop the closures, it will drastically slow down response times to some parts of the county.
“If that fire station is closed and your grandmother is having chest pains, it’s going to take us 10, maybe 15 minutes to get there because we have to come from another territory,” firefighter Alexander Munoz told CBS 4’s Lauren Pastrana.
Munoz was one of dozens of firefighters who gathered in protest at Fire Station 64 in MiamiLakes Monday evening.
Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Captain Maria Chin said the brownouts hit close to home.
“My mother lives in the county. Today, she lives in a territory, North Miami, that does not have fire rescue service,” Chin said. “So God forbid something happens to her or anybody in the neighborhood.”
Miami Lakes Mayor Michael Pizzi said he was unaware of the closure of station 64 in west MiamiLakes until the media alerted him.
In a letter from Pizzi to Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez obtained by CBS 4 News, Pizzi said he had been bombarded with questions and concerns from residents.
“While I agree with maintaining a flat tax rate, the key to good government is to keep taxes low without sacrificing public safety,” Pizzi wrote.
The tax rate issue will come into play for the next fiscal year.
Pizzi’s colleague, Miami Lakes Councilman Nelson Rodriguez stopped by the protest to show his support.
“United is our council, united is our mayor to back you guys up,” Rodriguez said to a round of applause. “Public safety cannot be touched and I urge the mayor of DadeCounty to find the money to keep these stations open,” Rodriguez, a firefighter himself, explained.
He said the brownouts are a recipe for disaster.
“When one of our trucks is shut down and the other truck broke down, here we have the worst case scenario happening in MiamiLakes on day number one of these brownouts,” he said. ‘It could affect my family. It could affect any family in Miami Lakes.”