Fire cuts

With fire department facing cuts, Thursday fire adds fuel to funding debate

2012-11-08T19:06:00Z 2013-12-18T13:12:32Z With fire department facing cuts, Thursday fire adds fuel to funding debateLINDSAY FIORI Journal Times

RACINE — A house fire Thursday that killed two children has some city aldermen calling for more Fire Department funding and one alderman saying the department chief should spend his budgeted dollars differently.

The deadly fire comes in the midst of a city budget season that’s featured a proposal from city administration to cut Racine Fire Department funding by $420,000 for next year. With that hit to his budget, Fire Chief Steve Hansen has said he would have to close one of the city’s six fire stations and cut three firefighter/paramedics from the department’s 141 total staff, which includes a secretary and clerk/typist.

When 15th District Alderman Robert Mozol first heard the budget proposal, he was “against it all the way.” Now, after Thursday’s fire, he finds the idea of cutting the Fire Department budget even more “absurd, to put it mildly,” he said.

Mozol is working with some other aldermen, whom he would not name, to move dollars around and maintain Fire Department funding, he said.

Likewise, 3rd District Alderman Michael Shields said he’s trying to find funds in other city departments to cut so Fire Station No. 5, 2430 Blaine Ave., remains in operation.

“As a city, we do face financial crisis but we just can’t afford to lose the important services like our public safety services,” said Shields, whose aldermanic district includes 1916 Linden Ave., where Thursday’s fire occurred.

Sixth District Alderman Sandy Weidner also wants to maintain fire services — and the Blaine Avenue station — but said doing so doesn’t just come down to dollars.

“We the council can set somebody’s budget. How they choose to use that budget is up to the department head, so the fire chief has the choice of cutting three (firefighters) or finding someplace else to cut,” Weidner said.

Her mother died in a Mount Pleasant house fire in 2004 so she knows having quick, well-staffed fire departments can make a difference — “She may have not died had a rescue squad come from someplace closer,” Weidner said — but she still doesn’t think the City Council should maintain Fire Department funding given the total city money available.

She suggests Hansen cut fire inspectors instead of first-responding firefighters and have staff do more fire safety inspections of businesses to bring in revenue and increase overall city safety, she said.

“Fire or no fire, I do not support the direction the chief is going, although I do understand and empathize with the predicament the mayor and the city administrator’s request” puts him in, Weidner said.

But when asked if he could find a way to keep staff and the fire station with a funding cut, Hansen said, “No!” He also said eliminating fire inspectors would shift fire safety education duties and 1,200 required inspections to other staff, who don’t have time.

Hansen added the loss of staff and the station will mean longer response times and having other stations pick up “the 800-plus emergency calls (Station) 5 has responded to so far in 2012.”

Station 5 was not the closest to Thursday’s fire, nor was its engine first on the scene. But the fire required a “full on-duty” response of 31 fire personnel — plus assistance from neighboring departments. If Station 5 hadn’t existed, more aid from nearby departments would have been needed, and that would have taken longer, Hansen said.

“Remember we had children trapped in the building and firefighters going down from exhaustion,” he said. “We would have been forced to wait longer for additional emergency assistance and potentially the outcome could have been more deadly.”

Mayor John Dickert and 11th District Alderman Greg Helding said funding choices can’t be based on one instance or worst-case scenario, though.

“Obviously we had a tragedy in our city, but we don’t make our decisions based on any one event,” Dickert said. When the budget process began this summer, the city was facing a $4 million budget deficit in part because of increased health care expenses, higher animal control costs and reduced revenue.

“We’re going to have to cut police and fire,”

Dickert said. “We have no choice.”

City leaders have to weigh priorities, Helding said, and “yes, life is a priority. But say we cut public works in order to fund the shortfall with the (fire) department, then we could face a situation like the Groundhog Day blizzard (and) not have the road crews.”

Helding added, “(Thursdays’ fire) is heart-wrenching but, at the same time, we spent the money we have now and we weren’t able to save those kids.”

A public hearing on the city budget will be held at 6 p.m. Monday at City Hall, 730 Washington Ave. The budget should be finalized later this month.

Correction: The address of Racine’s Fire Station 5 was incorrect. The error has been corrected.

Copyright 2016 Journal Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(19) Comments

  1. califchem
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    califchem - December 07, 2012 6:38 pm
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  2. tgotech
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    tgotech - December 07, 2012 4:29 pm
    TOXIC TRAIN SAFETY - A First Responders Petition caused The Chlorine Institute to conduct a five-month study comparing the safety of secondary containment to the chlorine “C”-Kit for chlorine tank cars. The study proved secondary containment to be, by far, the safest technology for containing and preventing releases of chlorine gas. To see secondary containment - search “CHLORTANKER.”
  3. rudycaparros
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    rudycaparros - December 07, 2012 1:52 pm
    HazMat Experts and Firefighters petition Dow Chemical and Union Pacific for safe rail tank cars transporting gas chlorine. Secondary containment is a necessary improvement that must be implemented. See--PETITION C KIT for First Responders Comments.
  4. ggodmuls
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    ggodmuls - November 10, 2012 10:25 am
    I dunno, maybe it's just my opinion, but I would classify “We’re going to have to cut police and fire,” Dickert said. “We have no choice.” that as one of the biggest lies John Dickert has told to date.

    Right behind Johns claims that "The City is Broke."

    But then again, I guess it depends upon how you define "Broke" - would the Mayor be willing to provide his definition? Might it be code for "My allocation of money in the budget is not up for discussion". The Common Council certainly seems willing to unquestionably obey the dictates of the Mayor.

    "We have no choice" is surely a dictate - right? That's how a Democracy works in Racine - right? The success of Team Porters is more important than providing residents with an adequate level of fire protection - right?

    I wonder how the Mayor's employees, the Firemen and Policemen of Racine feel about that choice, being expendable and all that.

    City leaders have to weigh priorities, Helding said

    I'm a little unclear here - would Greg Helding be willing to clearly define what priorities he is talking about? A little more insight, if you would.

    Ald. Sandy Weidner left me scratching my head when she said "“We the council can set somebody’s budget.

    So Ald. Weidner, why not set the Fire Department budget higher? Transfer of funds occur all the time and the City never has trouble with meeting overruns on City Contracts. The costs overruns by Absolute Construction on the Safety Building Ceiling and light replacement ran 182% (one-hundred eighty two) above the contracted amount - and the money was there. Are ceiling panels and lights more important than providing adequate fire protection for residents? What value do you place on a life?

  5. oldpatriot2
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    oldpatriot2 - November 09, 2012 10:20 am
    You could have the Mayor pay for his own legal fees, Bob.
  6. Relocate
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    Relocate - November 09, 2012 10:04 am
    I've said it before, I'll say it again. It's time we kept better care of the people who keep care of us.
  7. Relocate
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    Relocate - November 09, 2012 10:01 am
    Well said!
  8. playtowin
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    playtowin - November 09, 2012 9:31 am
    These children did not die because of cuts to fire department. They haven't even happened yet. Stop politicizing the deaths of two children. I think everyone knows why these kids did not get out of that house and why the FD had such a hard time getting in to fight it. Has nothing to do with the mayor. (I am not a Dickert supporter either)
  9. Sharpie
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    Sharpie - November 09, 2012 8:09 am
    I want to know where all of the people crying foul at the local fire departments are now. What happened to all of you who were calling firemen union thugs because all they cared about was themselves and how much money they could get. You can't tell me that these firemen and any other fireman across the country for that matter do not care about their communities that they are sworn to protect. It is time for local and state officials to stop placing blame on the public employees, teachers, dpw workers, bus drivers, garbage men, police, firefighters, electricians, ect. for their lack of vision and waste of money. I feel terrible for the family and I feel even worse that it took a tragedy like this to bring about the idea that local officials in Racine don't have a clue what they are talking about. Especially when the mayor highers a city administrator who does the mayors job. Mayor Dickert what exactly do you do besides travel the world in first class and sue your own city. We all know that Friedal was the one who prepared the 13 budget after all he's the one answering all the questions.
  10. oldguy
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    oldguy - November 09, 2012 8:01 am
    I don't see anyone focusing on the cause ( or possible causes ) of the fire. Would fire safety education not have gone a long way to prevent this fire ? The fire dept. responded in something like 4 would a larger fire department have improved on this ?
  11. An American
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    An American - November 09, 2012 7:00 am
    The loss of two young children Thursday is heart-breaking. It reminds of the old adage: “Penny-wise and dollar foolish.” The foolish are the legislators who tie the hands of local governments and their ability to respond to such tragedies. My point is not to defend Mayor Dickert or local officials who are eyeing first responder cuts from services, but rather to focus on who started this cold and irresponsible decision making. When Governor Walker and his Republican cohorts passed their budget, they in essence told local governments that they know better how they should run. Amazingly, Van Wangaard, a so-called first responder who should have defended his city and former professionals, chose politics over lives. We all know we are facing an economic crisis, but the following remains in my thoughts:

    City firefighters endured 20 minutes of blistering heat and intense smoke locating and rescuing the children.
    Immediately after removing the last child, Racine Fire Chief Steve Hansen said four firefighters “literally dropped from (heat) exhaustion;” they were treated at the scene, then immediately returned to the house and continued battling the blaze.
    “They gave it everything that they possibly could to get those kids out of there,” Hansen said. “This is an example of our firefighters going way above and beyond.”
  12. Lionhear
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    Lionhear - November 09, 2012 6:55 am
    To the family who lost their two daughters, my deepest condolences. To the Racine Fire Department, great effort guys! Your actions epitomize the highest of what is good in the fire service. I'm a retired Milw. firefighter. I hope mayor barrett in Milwaukee is taking note of what happened in Racine. He has cut the MFD budget, staffing, and in some cases eliminated active fire companies in Milwaukee during his administration. All for the sake of balancing the municipal budget. What a lot of Milwaukee residents don't know is that he has a program of "brown outs", in which firehouses have engines and ladder apparatus in them, but no one is there to use them in case of an emergency. As an example, the firehouse on Kinnickinnic Avenue will be unstaffed for 6 months with the firefighters normally stationed there working at other firehouses. After 6 months, it will be staffed, and a different firehouse will be closed for 6 months. Anyone driving by the firehouses that are closed will still see the fire vehicles, and assume they are staffed. barrett's policy is nothing but a game of Russian roulette. Some future tragedy that results in civilian deaths will show that one of the chambers of the gun truly held a bullet.
  13. Huck Finn
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    Huck Finn - November 08, 2012 10:41 pm
    Dickert sued the city and won, and now wants to add even more funds for lawyers and future legal problems. We need a new Mayor and most of the crew.
  14. ordmm
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    ordmm - November 08, 2012 10:18 pm
    Django. If the RJT had any kind of community commitment they would persue this story. But I doubt they will.
  15. ordmm
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    ordmm - November 08, 2012 10:16 pm
    "Racine Mayor John Dickert and Alderman Greg Helding said funding choices can't be based on one instance or worst case scenario though".......So, two kids die, the mayor don't care, where is all the uproar? Oh, Democrats said it. That makes it OK? Guess when the NAACP and the people at the Bray Center are beholding to Dickert, nothing is said. What a sad thing.
  16. ordmm
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    ordmm - November 08, 2012 9:59 pm
    Poor kids. My prayers are with the family. Can't even imagine the hurt and pain in losing children that way.
  17. Green Racinereal
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    Green Racinereal - November 08, 2012 9:59 pm
    Note The City wants to spend about 100K on something called Launch Box another 50K to pay the county to mange and find Brown Field grant
    There are also stories going around about the city planing to help the Heritage Museum move to the Old Case Credit building.
    IMHO I think if we wait to do this it help fund RFD or should we have more dead kids so the rich and white have yet another business club (Launch Box) the Root Rive Council gets more grant money to mange?
  18. Jeff Warg
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    Jeff Warg - November 08, 2012 9:19 pm
    Why didn't we cut out the $900,000 unneeded roundabout or how about the $425k spent for the city hall bathrooms. Racine has only 6 fire stations left. I researched and it was recommended a city of our size should have 8 fire stations, one for every 10,000 residents. Why not eliminate the City Administrator job and tell the mayor he needs to be here?Racine has many problems that need to be addressed.

    The 2013 city budget has more pork than Arnold Ziffel. The bus budget could be reduced by 10-20 percent by running the much smaller Dart busses on 75 percent of the routes. Instead the city runs those full-size nearly empty busses all day instead of only on those routes that are full of kids riding to and from school. Who's brilliant idea was it to buy 15 more full-size busses last year at $400k each, when we could have bought the smaller, more fuel efficient Dart busses for only 80k each?

    “We’re going to have to cut police and fire,” Dickert said. “We have no choice.”

  19. Django
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    Django - November 08, 2012 8:18 pm
    “'We’re going to have to cut police and fire,' Dickert said. 'We have no choice.'

    Dickert chooses to fund his scams over our safety. He chooses his scams over the lives of children. He gives our money away to his cronies and then cries that were broke. Why are we giving the millionaires who destroyed Porters a million of our tax dollars? That alone would fund out police and fire. If Dickert would stop fighting his private legal battles with our money, there would be enough. He flies to France to see a fish farm when there is one across the street. He doesn't even know what is going on in his own city, but his cronies know it's free lunch time on the backs of Racine taxpayers.

    Racine has a history of using children like so much meat. Dickert doesn't give a darn that children die, especially minorities. They're all disposable in the official Racine mindset.

    Dickert's buddy Becker showed us what our "leaders" think of children in Racine. There was a report just issued that after millions and millions of dollars and 15 years, RUSD is the same hellhole it was. In Dickert's mind, we're toys for him to play with. He doesn't care if he breaks a few toys. He's Dickert, he's King of Racine.
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