Some Midtown residents think the Memphis Fire Services administration is playing with fire as it considers cutting one of two ladder trucks stationed in the city's core.
As part of a three-year staff reduction plan, the fire department is considering cutting 111 jobs through attrition and removing six ladder trucks from stations across the city. Memphis Fire Services director Alvin Benson won't say which trucks may be cut, but he has admitted the that department is considering the removal of one of two ladder trucks from Midtown — either from the Union fire station or the one on Jefferson.
Two trucks were removed last year, one from Hickory Hill and one from Whitehaven. Four more are scheduled to be taken out of service over the next two years, with two of them removed between April and July of this year. Benson has said the city will save about $1 million per truck.
"The criteria to select trucks are complex. However, overlapping coverage with other trucks is a significant consideration. As was the case in the Whitehaven and Hickory Hill areas, the Midtown/Medical District areas have significant truck overlap and are being considered," wrote Benson in a letter to Midtown residents.
But that reasoning doesn't sit well with Midtown resident and local attorney Leah Roen.
"Trucks go out of service. What if a truck is in the shop or on another run somewhere else in the city?" Roen asked.
The ladder trucks are crucial in fighting high-rise fires, and two ladder trucks are required to show up at commercial building fires.
"With either [the Union or Jefferson trucks], look at the area we're talking about. There's a lot of high-rises and huge homes," said Larry Anthony, president of the Memphis Fire Fighters Association, which also opposes the proposed cuts. "The safety of citizens and the safety of firefighters is at risk."
Last year, the Union station's ladder truck made nearly 950 runs and the truck on Jefferson made more than 1,400 runs. Compare that with the truck that was pulled from Hickory Hill last year, which made around 340 runs.
Although Benson has claimed that removing a truck from Midtown won't affect response times per the requirements of the National Fire Protection Association, Anthony disagrees.
"I don't care what they say. If they close one truck, they will have a delayed response. We have this many pieces of equipment for a reason," said Anthony, a 40-year veteran of the fire department.
"When they cut this equipment, it will bring us back to the 1970s, as far as the number of equipment, battalion chiefs, and personnel," Anthony continued. "Since then, we've annexed five different areas."
Benson said trucks to be cut from other stations have not yet been decided, but former Memphis firefighter Thomas Malone believes any reduction in equipment is dangerous.
"I'm not just trying to stop the cuts in Midtown. I'm trying to stop the cuts, period," said Malone, the district field representative for the International Service of Firefighters. "We can't say Midtown is more important than Raleigh or Frayser or Hickory Hill. If they're going to cut from anywhere, they're going to dilute services from that community."