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Merrimack Valley

April 27, 2014

Budget crunch idles fire trucks

Mayor's policy sidelines one truck per shift

LAWRENCE — The Lawrence Fire Department is sidelining fire trucks to avoid overspending its budget.

Lawrence Mayor Daniel Rivera said it’s a short-term fiscal policy he instituted after recently learning the city faces a potential cost overrun of up to $200,000 for fire services for the fiscal year ending June 30.

“We already have a spending freeze in place to make sure anything that gets paid for is absolutely necessary,” Rivera said in an interview Friday.

“But it’s not the only thing we’re doing. We want to make sure we have enough money to get us through the year,” the mayor said.

After conferring with Interim Fire Chief John Marsh, officials of Lawrence Firefighters Local 146 union and the city’s state-appointed fiscal overseer, Rivera said his administration has developed a temporary staffing plan for the Fire Department that would involve taking one fire engine or ladder truck out of service for as little as four hours or as long as a day.

“The first step is that firefighters will do their best not to take any unplanned personal and vacation time in the next 10 weeks,” Rivera said in a one-page statement released Friday on Fire Department budget issues.

“So if everyone shows up to work as scheduled, we should not have any issues at all. In the event that we fall below the full complement, we will manage the schedule to brown out apparatus in a priority manner; insuring that we have as much coverage as we can. We will review this on a day-to-day basis,” the mayor said.

A full complement, according to Chief Marsh, is 24 full-time personnel on duty during a 24-hour shift. This would include 21 firefighters, two staffers at fire alarm headquarters and a deputy chief. The 21 firefighters would be the minimum needed to keep a fleet of seven vehicles in service, which would include four fire engines, two ladder trucks and a rescue vehicle. The Fire Department maintains a minimum of three firefighters per vehicle.

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