Firefighter Cuts Must Stop Now!
One of the greatest dangers to citizens of Milwaukee is the occurrence of fire and the clear threat to life and property that comes with it. The Milwaukee Fire Department has protected citizens from these hazards since 1875. The critical primary component of the Milwaukee Fire Department, the firefighter, has historically operated with the support of local political leaders. Supporting firefighters is absolutely essential and must occur in tangible ways, such as providing enough staffing to allow them to rapidly carry out the long list of difficult but critical tasks necessary to effect the rescue of trapped civilians and extinguish fires in their property.
Starting in 2001, the Milwaukee Fire Department began suffering the effects of budget cuts. Since Mayor Tom Barrett was elected in 2004, the cuts to the Fire Department have been massive and unrelenting. Mayor Barrett has presented astonishingly irresponsible budget proposals where fire safety is concerned. A total of 162 frontline firefighters have been lost, the vast majority of them on Mayor Barrett’s watch. In 2008, Mayor Barrett, with the complicit support of Fire Chief Douglas Holton, closed down a critical downtown engine company at a time when our downtown and lakefront districts are just beginning to add square footage at a rate not seen in recent history.
Citizens of Milwaukee, please answer the wake up call. The facts are simple:
• The occurrence of fires is down; Milwaukee Firefighters have worked diligently to provide fire prevention and safety education to Milwaukeeans.
• Even though fires occur less frequently, citizens need to be aware that when they do occur, more property and more lives are being lost per fire than at any time in our city’s history.
• In 2008, six civilians suffered fire-related deaths, the second-lowest number of fire-related deaths in 50 years. This low number is fantastic, but it can by no means be interpreted as a sign that all is well with firefighter staffing.
• As an example, one of our single 5-Firefighter Ladder Trucks, Ladder Company 9, was largely responsible for keeping the death toll so low; without their heroic rescues throughout 2008, the death toll would have easily doubled. In 2009, that same ladder company has been reduced by 20% to four firefighters. The mayor’s game of Russian Roulette continues.
The Fire Service’s national standards group, the NFPA, states unequivocally that all of Milwaukee’s Fire Engines and Ladder Trucks should be staffed at five or six firefighters each. This is due to our many densely-developed neighborhoods, large swaths of aging housing stock, and many commercial and industrial occupancies, all especially susceptible to fire catastrophes. It is important to realize that our mayor and fire chief presently have us running at four, and in a few cases, five firefighters each.
Each of the mayor’s arguments has been quickly dismantled in the Milwaukee Firefighter Association’s report: Frontline Analysis of Increased Fire Risk in the City of Milwaukee. The report is available online at: www.local215.com. Please read the report and contact your alderperson and Mayor Barrett. Please, support your Milwaukee Firefighters.