North Memphis resident Dorothy Duncan knows firsthand the benefits of living near a fire station.
"Last time I called the fire department, they were there in four minutes. My son was in a diabetic coma. I thought he was dead, but they helped him," Duncan said.
She was one of several North Memphis residents at a Memphis City Council public safety committee meeting last week protesting the slated closure of Fire Station 6 on Thomas Street. City budget cuts require that the Memphis Fire Department cut 92 positions, and that has resulted in the planned closing of Station 6 and the decommissioning of ladder truck 22 in Raleigh.
But a council committee voted on July 16th to delay the station's closure and the ladder truck decommision from the planned date of August 1st to September 1st. At the next city council meeting, councilmen Joe Brown and Lee Harris plan to introduce a resolution to save the station for at least one year by funding it with $1.1 million from the city's reserve funds.
"This would be the first fire station closed for as long as anybody can remember," Harris said. "We have to take that seriously. We can't just throw a brick and close the first fire station in years. The public deserves a few votes on the city council about this."
Memphis Fire Department director Alvin Benson made the decision to close the station and decommission ladder truck 22, which will not be saved even if the council votes to fund the fire station, after he was asked to cut 92 positions through attrition. Benson said cutting positions means he must decommission equipment, which, in this case, is the engine at Station 6 and the ladder truck from Raleigh.
"Number 6 is the only station in the city that has three stations within 1.5 miles," Benson said. "Of course, that's not a lot of comfort to the people who live across the street from the fire station. I understand the outcry."
Benson said response times will lag for some if the station is closed. But he assured council members that, even if Station 6 closes, response times will still fall under the nationally recommended response times. "Some people have been enjoying a two to three minute response time, and now it could be five to six minutes," Benson said.
That's not acceptable for Memphis Fire Fighters Association president Thomas Malone. The union is rallying to save Station 6 and ladder truck 22. Malone is trying to convince the city administration to have the Insurance Services Office, which determines a score that helps insurance companies set rates for the city, come to Memphis and evaluate what the cuts in service will do to the insurance rate. He's convinced the insurance rate would spike dramatically following the cuts.
"If we're talking a $300 to $400 increase in insurance, would the citizens prefer to pay a few more tax dollars [and save fire services] versus a lot more insurance dollars?" Malone asked.
Some council people believe the cuts may lead to more efficient service, because it would force the department to trim fat.
"If the fire station closes and there are still three stations within a mile and a half, is that really a reduction in services? Or is it part of natural change?" Councilman Shea Flinn asked.
The station's planned closure was announced with very little warning. North Memphis residents held an emergency meeting last week, but Harris wants to make sure that any future closures are announced early enough to give citizens more say. In addition to proposing keeping Station 6 open, Harris will also introduce a resolution at the next council meeting to require that any future fire station or police precinct closures be delayed until three public meetings are held.