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Safe at Home, the Fire and EMS Report is a Helpful Blueprint

PITTSBURGH -- The city of Pittsburgh is under state oversight not just to fix its finances. It also needs to learn how to operate more efficiently.

Both themes surface in a study released Thursday on the costly yet critical areas of fire safety and emergency medical services. The TriData division of the Virginia-based System Planning Corp. has given Pittsburghers 152 recommendations for how to reshape and improve the Fire and Emergency Medical Service bureaus.

The points that will be most talked about include: closing three fire stations, possibly eliminating three engine companies, upgrading fire trucks and spending millions to repair fire and paramedic buildings. But other key findings bear on the quality and cost of public safety, too: limiting the daily work hours of paramedics to 16 (instead of 20), using conflict resolution to end the friction between firefighters and paramedics, improving the physical fitness of firefighters and rebuilding the fire education and code enforcement staff.

These and other recommendations will be a lot for city officials to digest. But Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and City Council would be remiss if they didn't give careful thought to the study, which was commissioned by the Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority -- the state board overseeing the city's financial health.

It will be easy for these prescriptions to get lost in verbal battles involving union contracts, employee turf wars and political one-upmanship. But unlike studies done for Pittsburgh government that languish on the shelf, the TriData report deserves consideration, debate and, in many respects, adoption.

The mayor observed that the cost of implementation could be $40 million or more. But there are savings to be had, too. Fortunately, the ICA can use the legal leverage of its oversight role to insist on serious treatment for the report; it should also try to leverage some state dollars for these changes.

It's true that some of it will come down to what Pittsburgh can afford. What it cannot afford is the status quo.

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