All over the country, conservatives are complaining about the need to “cut government spending” at any cost, demonizing the government and its role in defending the public interest in the process. While truly taking aim at waste in government is an admirable goal, a recent story of out of Philadelphia provides a cautionary tale about why we must protect funding for certain social necessities.
As a part of Philadelphia’s cost-cutting measures, the city has been closing down certain fire stations on a rotating basis in a process of “rolling brownouts.” Since these brownouts began, city firefighters have protested the policy, saying that they would harm public safety. Philadelphia Fire Commissioner Loyd Ayers dismissed these warnings and defended the city’s austerity plans, saying that the city “will continue to respond to your call and tend to any and every emergency that may arise in an urgent and timely manner.”
Yet the firefighters were proven right when a tragedy struck earlier this week. On Tuesday, a fire broke out in a row home in the Olney section of the city. The closest fire station, which operates Engine 61, was closed that day due to the brownouts. Thus Engine 51, which was stationed further away from the site of the disaster, was dispatched to handle the situation. By the time two children were pulled from the ruins of the row home, it was too late, as both had tragically passed away.
While the Fire Department’s Lt. Mike Grant maintains that Engine 51 got to the scene in “good order,” Mike Kane, who represents firefighters on behalf of Philadelphia Firefighters Union Local 22, estimated that the closer Engine 61 could’ve “been on the scene in half the time.” While Kane said that “nobody can answer” whether having a closer fire engine would’ve saved the lives of the children, he could say with confidence that the kids at least “would have had a shot. Maybe them kids would have had a shot“:
Two children were killed in a fire in the city’s Olney section Tuesday, and now an official from the firefighters’ union is questioning if Philadelphia’s cost-cutting “brownouts” of fire companies played a role. A 7-year-old and a 9-year-old were pulled from the row home on the 100 block of Sparks Street once firefighters were able to knock down the flame. The engine that would have been first on the scene, Engine 61, was browned-out, or closed for the day, as part of the city’s cost-cutting measures.Scores of firefighters and paramedics protested the city’s brownout policy at the site of the fire on Wednesday. “We need $15 million. I’m not saying that that’s a pittance; that’s a lot of money. But $15 million will stop the brownout policy and reopen all of the seven companies closed in January of ’09,” said Ray Vozzelli, of International Association of Firefighters Local 22. Watch it: (watch the video at source, code not working)
Fire Department Lt. Mike Grant said, “Engine 51 took over for them, they got here in good order.” On the other hand, Mike Kane, with Philadelphia Firefighters Union Local 22, says Engine 61 could have been on the scene in half the time. “Whether that Engine 61, being browned out, if that company was in service, they would have made a difference? Nobody can answer that, because we don’t have a crystal ball. What we can say is, maybe if they were there, they would have had a shot. Maybe them kids would have had a shot,” Kane said.
The story of the Philadelphia firefighters bears a number of similarities to a fire last year in Obion County, Tennessee. Firefighters in that county refused to put out a fire at a local home because its owners had not paid the subscription fee for fire service that the county mandated. The firefighters actually stood by and watched as the home burned to the ground. After that fire, numerous leading conservatives including writers for the National Review came out in defense of the county’s policies. One has to wonder if their lust for reducing government spending at any cost will bring them to agreeing with a brownout policy that appears to be yielding lethal results.
Update Last night, The Big Picture's Thom Hartmann debated the Philadelphia brownout issue with conservative radio host T.J. McCormack, who, while attacking public sector unions, actually attacked the brownout policy and said that conservatives should not champion cuts to services that maintain public safety. Watch it: