GUEST COMMENTARY: Hammond can't justify cost of 4th aerial unit

2012-01-13T00:00:00Z GUEST COMMENTARY: Hammond can't justify cost of 4th aerial unitBy Thomas McDermott Jr. nwitimes.com
January 13, 2012 12:00 am  • 

Over the past few years, cities and towns in Indiana have made significant cuts in fire personnel because of the property tax caps that have been adopted: South Bend eliminated 49 positions and Kokomo 12 positions; Muncie laid off 32; and Logansport handed pink slips to 10. Closer to home, Gary laid off 34 firefighters.

While other communities have laid off fire personnel, Hammond has not, and I have no plans to do so. At the same time, we have cut or transferred 300 employees from the payroll paid through property taxes during the past eight years. Yet the costs of operating the city have continued to rise.

Given the efforts we already have taken to reduce spending in other departments, we have to look to see how we can operate our fire and police departments in the most efficient manner possible without sacrificing public safety.

In the past few months, we have chosen to leave vacant or reassign several support and inspector positions. I reached out to representatives of Firefighters Local 556, hoping to identify additional ways to reduce manning while providing an appropriate level of protection. Unfortunately, we were not able to come to an agreement on how to accomplish the needed reductions.

Given the current contract with our firefighters and an obligation to reduce cost, I was left with no other choice but to not man one of Hammond's four aerial units and to reassign personnel. That aerial unit remains available should it be needed for a major fire, when the Fire Department calls out extra personnel.

Even with the reduction, Hammond maintains more aerial units (three fully manned, one in reserve) than any other department in Northwest Indiana, along with seven engines and four ambulances. Hammond also has mutual aid agreements with a number of surrounding communities in the event that such assistance is needed.

Only two cities north of Indianapolis — South Bend with 25 percent more residents than Hammond,and Fort Wayne with a population more than three times that of our city — maintain four fully manned aerial units.

We will continue to make fire and police protection a top priority in Hammond, but we also will seek to reduce unnecessary cost whenever possible.

Thomas McDermott Jr. is mayor of Hammond. The opinions are the writer's.

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