Firefighters take pay cut to keep station open

July 21, 2009 7:26:04 PM PDT
The economy is forcing people to make some tough decisions. Firefighters in Burlingame and Hillsborough are saying they will take a pay cut rather than see a station shutdown.

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Firefighters in the Central County Fire District provide fire protection to Burlingame and Hillsborough, but it is the city of Burlingame that is in the greatest financial difficulty.

The city's auto row has suffered and with the city's tax revenues down, every department was told to cut 10 percent.

"So for me it was roughly $1.2, $1.4 million that I had to eliminate from fiscal year 9-10," Fire District Chief Don Dornell said.

Dornell says the city told him could be no layoffs or furloughs. The only other logical choice was to close down one of the fire stations and timing runs showed Station 36 was the one to close.

"So we presented that to Council, Council was not happy with it, but that was the way we were going because of the amount of money we had to cut in the budget," Dornell said.

That is, until the firefighters themselves stepped forward and though their union told the city they would eliminate next year's guaranteed pay hike, give up incentive pay and cut staffing on their biggest fire truck from four firefighters down to three.

"It's not something we're happy about but it's the best way to preserve public safety given the budget problems that they have in that fire department," Firefighters Union President Ed Hawkins said.

Station 36 was so important to the firefighters because of the railroad tracks that divide Burlingame. Station 36 is the only fire station in the east side of the tracks.

Take out the fire fighters and close the station and then imagine a fire on the east side with engines having to respond from the west side stations. Engines trying to cross the track to get over to the east side would potentially have to wait for trains.

"Well, we have a lot of residential neighborhoods within District 36 as well as a many high rise hotels," firefighter Kevin Kopyscianski said.

Dornell says it was the firefighters' idea and their choice.

"To me it says a lot about the personnel in our organization, that they said, 'Hey, we got to do something to make this work,' so I give them all the credit for making this go," Dornell said.

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