We have our first HFD rolling brownout

And nothing bad happened.

Three Houston firetrucks were pulled from service Friday morning, the first “brownout” in the city’s fire fleet since the Houston Fire Department’s budget struggles came to light in early February.

In keeping with a plan Fire Chief Terry Garrison announced last month that called for trucks in areas with lower call volumes and more nearby stations to be idled first, department brass decided to park Engines 45, 77 and 78. In all, 15 positions were left vacant Friday, including one of the five spots on the department’s heavy rescue truck and a district chief post.

“Our firefighters will continue to do the best job they can and they’ll ensure firefighter safety and customer service to the best of their ability, but … the quicker we get to an incident, the quicker we can start stabilizing that incident, whether it’s a house fire or a heart attack,” Garrison said. “We wanted to make sure we had the least amount of impact, but there will be a slight impact.”

Mayor Annise Parker said she expects the fire department will effectively handle the situation.

“We have every faith in the Houston Fire Department that they will be able to make the necessary adjustments and handle each call efficiently and effectively,” she said.


Councilman Oliver Pennington, whose District G is home to Station 78, said he was disappointed.

“Everyone knew spring break was coming up when this agreement was made,” Pennington said. “Any time you run short of money, there’s always a chance for crisis. People really need to pay attention. Hopefully, we can plan better for the next holiday.”

When the city-union deal was approved, officials said all trucks would remain in service as long as HFD averaged fewer than 35 unexpected absences, such as sick days and emergency leave, per day. Friday, there were 42 such absences, including 28 sick days.

“We feel like people are going to think we’re browning out because too many people called in sick,” Executive Assistant Fire Chief Richard Mann said Friday. “Well, today I had 927 people that were assigned, and only 28 called in sick. That’s 3 percent. So, it’s more a factor of we’re just short-staffed. We need to get our staffing levels up.”

See here for the background. I’m a little surprised that this happened since everyone wanted to avoid it, but the personnel issue is a factor, as is HFD’s previous management of overtime. As noted, nothing bad happened, which is good, not surprising, and no guarantee of anything going forward. I hope this isn’t a common occurrence, but there’s no guarantee of that, either. Texpatriate has more.

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3 Responses to We have our first HFD rolling brownout

  1. Dwight League says:

    O.k., How about now? Do you still like the ‘Nothing Bad Happened’ idea, or does it look more like a gamble now? The Montrose fire, even with a fully staffed fire department, left the rest of the city vulnerable because the majority of the city’s resources were busy. All it would have taken was another house fire, and if that house fire was not addressed immediately, it would set the next house on fire. There are a lot of days where ‘nothing bad happened’ and a lot of days where something bad happens and no one hears about it, but one guarantee is that something else will happen in the future, would you want help if it happens to you?

  2. Dwight League says:

    So, the mayor has complained about people taking time off, but also puts those who never took time off and retired with sick leave on the front page of the newspaper when they do. The Mayor has complained about every aspect of the fire department continuously since she has been in office. The budget of the fire department rose 6% between 2012 and 2014, the budget of the police department, between 2012 and 2014 rose 17%, the Mayor’s office rose 41% between 2012 and 2014. When someone continues to complain and complain and complain, even when their complaints have been addressed, people need to realize that that person is complaining for the sake of complaining and not to solve a real problem.

  3. Dwight League says:

    “We talked to eyewitness Kim Cortez who works in the Wortham Tower across from the fire. She says that in less than five minutes it went from being a small fire on the roof of the apartments to the full on blaze you see in the photos above and below.” (Houston Press report)

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