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Station Closures, Understaffing Criticized : Oxnard Firefighters Warn of Peril

September 28, 1989|CAROL WATSON | Times Staff Writer

Oxnard firefighters, pointing to occasional closures of fire stations over the summer, warned the City Council that cutting services to save money had endangered citizens.

They also criticized Tuesday the city's failure to meet their labor contract demands. The 87 members of the firefighters union have worked without a contract for about three months.

"We're doing a dangerous job understaffed in the best conditions," said Robert Thorp, an Oxnard firefighter for seven years. "It's a matter of priorities and we feel the priorities should lie in public safety."

The council adopted a 1989-90 budget in June that included service level reductions totaling $1.9 million. As part of the cutbacks, vacancies in the fire stations and other city offices are not immediately filled.

Manpower Shortages

Since July 1, there have been 48 days when manpower shortages took one squad out of commission, 16 days when two squads were unavailable, and 14 days when two squads and a station were closed, Firefighter Tom Sugawara said.

Such a closure may increase response time by up to five minutes, time that is crucial in emergencies, Sugawara said.

However, the council has no choice, said Councilwoman Ann Johs. The council disclosed last week that estimated 1988-89 revenues are about $1.7 million less than expected. At the same time, expenditures are about $850,000 more than anticipated.

"I feel bad in this decline of revenues that we can't give them the raise they want, much less the staffing," Johs said.

Firefighters said they were angry over stalled contract negotiations.

Haggling Over Details

Firefighters and the city are haggling over small details, said union attorney Stephen H. Silver.

The city has offered to increase salaries by 3% in November and an additional 2.5% in April. The union wants a 6% increase in January. The difference in city expenditures, Silver said, amounts to about $5,000.

More than 25 union members protested Saturday at a dedication ceremony for Oxnard State Beach Park.

Almost 30 showed up at the City Council meeting, waving signs that said: "Oxnard's Budget Balancing Means Fire Station Closures" and "Do You Really Care?"

Silver said the next step is to go door-to-door in Oxnard, passing out leaflets to make citizens aware of the issue.

At present, he said, there are no plans for a walkout.

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