South Tucson budget discussed as more firefighters resign

South Tucson budget discussed as more firefighters resign
(Source: Tucson News Now)

SOUTH TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Budget cuts in the city of South Tucson have reached unsafe levels, according to firefighters at Monday night's city council meeting and more of them are calling it quits.

The council chambers at the city's municipal complex were packed full of firefighters and concerned South Tucson citizens.

The fire engine bay doors won't be closing for good, it's the people inside going through the permanent changes.

Fire Captain Rick Raimondi is one of 22 South Tucson Fire Department firefighters who have submitted their resignation to the city, effective Feb. 28. The next day, on March 1, if all goes as planned by the city council, the department will no longer be staffing its engines with four firefighters.

The department only staffs 33 firefighters total to cover the shifts.

"We don't feel supported here and it's just flat dangerous to run 3-person engine crews," Raimondi told Tucson News Now. "We didn't want to leave the citizens empty-handed here and gave them some time to get things situated where they can staff an engine."

We learned why the city will be making those cuts at Monday night's study session in the council chambers.

The latest budget, among other cuts, will be removing one firefighter from the four-person crew. It would leave one less firefighter to operate the only fire engine that the city owns and utilizes.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration calls for a 'two in, two out' standard firefighter practice. Its purpose is so firefighters never go into a dangerous situation alone.

The city council said they were forced to make the budget cut to resolve a multi-thousand dollar deficit and balance the budget.

During the public session Monday night, the city's finance director said other positions were cut to balance the budget, including a South Tucson planner position and a South Tucson Police Department officer and sergeant.

All of the 33 firefighters in the department, save for 2 full time administrators, are part-time firefighters who don't receive benefits, according to Raimondi. He stated that most of the firefighters either work another full-time job on the side or are retired from another department.

Raimondi explained that each part-time firefighter is making minimum wage and that the cost of each firefighter comes to about $28,000-$30,000 per year.

"They get a Big Bang for their buck with us," Raimondi said. "They said their hands are tied."

For the people in attendance it appeared police and fire staffing was the biggest issue, echoed by Arlene Lopez.

"To me, the most critical thing in South Tucson is to have police and fire. That's what the community is concerned about," Lopez said.

That same concern is what she shared, speaking first during the call to the audience session Monday night, voicing her displeasure with the decision.

"With a skeleton crew how do you expect them to respond to 911 calls?" she rhetorically asked the council.

She, like others, was concerned about her home and and what could be lacking in an emergency when Raimondi, and his 32 years of fighting fires, is gone.

"It's going to be bad for the citizens. They're losing all their experience, really. I think they're putting lives in danger, frankly," Raimondi said. "Just even take the fires out of it. You can't affect a rescue in a fire situation with three people. You have to have two people out and two people in. So there won't be any rescuing of anybody until TFD gets here. And they come through the kindness of their heart at this point."

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