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The State

Budget Woes Hit Fire Protection

Despite the risks, cash-strapped Richmond lays off firefighters and tries rotating closures of fire stations to save money. It is not alone.

February 17, 2004|Robert Hollis | Special to The Times

"I came out with my pants half down around my knees and carrying my shoes," said Knowles, 58, a pharmacist for Contra Costa County. "When I opened the door, there was this huge wall of fire."

Sensing that his escape route was blocked, he used a back door and edged along a wooden walkway, facing the flames, to reach the street.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday February 18, 2004 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 42 words Type of Material: Correction
Richmond firefighters -- An article in Tuesday's California section on the city of Richmond's efforts to save money by closing fire stations misidentified a state firefighters organization. Carroll Wills is the spokesman for California Professional Firefighters, not the California State Firefighters Assn.

Three others in the building, including his sister on the top floor, escaped unharmed, he said. He credited the first three firefighters on the scene with saving his building, although just barely. The wooden wall of his condominium facing the fire was blackened, and in places the vinyl siding and underlying insulation were melted and twisted by the intense heat.

Meanwhile, Councilman Butt said he felt squeezed by the tactics of unionized firefighters and the specter of city bankruptcy. The City Council has considered a variety of cost-saving measures -- even cutting its own ranks from seven to five members. That proposal failed.

"Things look pretty bleak out there," Butt said.

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