Houston fire chief addresses Prop B dispute with solutions

Hard numbers, even harder prospects.

Houston Fire Chief Sam Peña told City Council the cost of implementing voter-approved pay parity will force him to lay off 220 firefighters and 67 cadets.

"I recognize this is going to cause some turmoil, but we are making due with less money here okay," said Peña.

287 layoffs in all, that's far fewer than city leaders had once predicted amounting to eight percent of the total force.

Peña hopes to compensate by moving from a four shift system to three.

If that happens, the 845 firefighters currently serving the City at any given time would drop to 817 - a staffing level the Chief believes will "maintain public safety". 

"I don't want to be caught in the hysteria of believing that children are going to die, that senior citizens are going to burn if we make any consolidations or adjustments. That is not the case," said Peña.

In addition to the lay-offs, Pena's proposed efficiencies and consolidations would retire three ladder companies, reduce HAZMAT personnel and reallocate fire suppression resources to the emergency medical service - which comprise 87 percent of HFD'S calls.

Peña described an analysis of the reconfigured department indicating response times would be only two seconds slower citywid,e and would not require closure of a single fire station.

In response, the Firefighters' union accused Peña and Mayor Sylvester Turner of "gutting" a department they should be building up.

"They are talking about reducing, reducing, reducing, closing, closing, closing. That's a serious recipe for disaster," said Marty Lancton, President of the Houston Professional Firefighters Association.

Lancton believes the proposed move from four to three shifts is in violation of a Federal Court consent decree issued back in the 90's as part of a settlement aimed at giving minority Houston Firefighters more opportunities for promotion.