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Ambulance Brownouts Worry Philadelphia Residents

As rolling brownouts of city fire stations continued into their second day Tuesday, affected residents voiced anger and fear.

In South Philadelphia, where the Fire Department shut down Engine 24 at 1200 S. 20th St., residents were greeted with a simple sign on the garage door that read, "Sorry, we're closed."

Neighbors said they were deeply concerned.

"This fire station saved my life," said Thomas Benton, 48, who works for a house cleaning company.

When he suffered a heart attack a couple of months ago, the ambulance dispatched from the now-shuttered firehouse arrived within five minutes.

"Who is helping us out here now?" Benton asked. Since he lives nearby, Benton said, he sees the station's ambulance responding to calls regularly, especially on weekends.

The Fire Department started closing fire companies on a daily rotating basis Monday in a budget-cutting measure that Mayor Nutter has said would have no discernible impact on safety, noting that no firefighters had been laid off.

The brownout will affect 23 of the city's 56 stations, according to Fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers, who announced the strategy last week.

Three companies will be closed during each shift. On Tuesday, Engine 24 in South Philadelphia and Engine 18 at 8205 Roosevelt Blvd. were closed for the day shift. Engine 68 on South 52d Street and Ladder 9 at 2108 Market St. were closed for the night shift.

Engine 38, on Longshore Avenue near State Road in the Tacony section of Northeast Philadelphia, was previously demolished. The company has been operating out of Engine 33's station in Bridesburg.

City officials maintain that implementing rotating closures will not make Philadelphia less safe, though the firefighters union heavily opposes the plan.

"A brownout is a service reduction, plain and simple," Bill Gault, president of Local 22, said Tuesday. He said union protests would continue, including plans for rallies at locations yet to be announced.

Gault denied that the opposition was prompted by the loss of overtime, the main source of the projected $3.8 million in savings. Mayor Nutter last month balanced the city budget by cutting $47 million in spending, including the Fire Department's savings. He dismissed the complaints from the firefighters. "Don't buy that hype," Nutter said on Monday.

Neighbors of 801 S. 52d St., where Engine 68 went dark last night, see it differently.

"Emergency is all about seconds and minutes," said Paul King, a 63-year-old local business owner. "How can you say closing down stations has no impact?" King, who has been living in the area for 23 years, said he expected that the closings would be especially dangerous for chronically diseased people and those who suffer seizures. "They rely on the fire station responding quickly," he said. Instead of shutting down emergency services for the public, Nutter should cut off spending for "parties and parades," he added.

Shortly before closing down the station late Tuesday afternoon, firefighters responded to two medical calls within 30 minutes.

The closest fully equipped fire station open around the clock is 1.6 miles away at 56th and Chestnut Streets.

Council members who represent the affected districts did not respond to requests for comment: Council President Anna C. Verna, Sixth District Councilwoman Joan L. Krajewski, Fifth District Councilman Darrell L. Clarke, and Third District Councilwoman Jannie L. Blackwell.



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