After a few tense weeks, Potomac residents can breathe a bit more easily. The firefighters who staff Ladder Truck 10 at Cabin John station on River Road are not going anywhere — at least through June.
“None of the de-staffing of anything is going to happen now," said Pete Piringer, spokesman for the Fire and Rescue Service.
“There are no fire service cuts in the savings plan,” said County Councilman Howard Denis (R-1).
“There is a feeling of temporary relief,” said Jim Seavey, chief of Cabin John Station on River Road.
However, the fight to keep the truck is not yet over.
“The grim reaper is still knocking at the door,” Seavey said. In March, County Executive Doug Duncan will present the council with his budget for Fiscal Year ‘04 which begins July 1. It was Seavey’s understanding that the truck may still be removed from service in the new fiscal year.
“Everything is on the table with respect to ‘04,” Fire Administrator Gordon Aoyagi said. Seavey is still going to fight to keep the services.
“We’re going to rally whatever support we can,” Seavey said.
For now, the truck will not be included in the budget cuts that have already started. Executive branch department heads had been asked to submit “savings plans” across all departments to make up for a projected budget shortfall. Aoyagi was asked to cut $1.5 million from the Fire and Rescue Service’s budget.
Among the items he put on the chopping block in the Potomac area were the staff for Cabin John’s ladder truck, the ambulance at Station 33 on Falls Road, and several full time positions that would have affected river rescues. He also proposed de-staffing a station in Kensington.
“Mr. Duncan chose to defer any service change,” Aoyagi said.
The proposed cuts in Fire and Rescue had caused major outcry from individuals and elected officials alike.
“The letter that I and my colleagues sent to the executive was effective,” Denis said. He and Council members Marilyn Praisner (D-4), Phil Andrews (D-3) and Tom Perez (D-5) drafted a letter to Duncan (D) asking that he take the fire service savings from areas that would not remove any personnel or equipment from the field. “We’re certainly sympathetic of the need for cuts, but the very last cuts that should be explored are direct service to the citizens,” Seavey said. The Fire and Rescue Commission, a body that is charged with making budget recommendations to the council was also against the service cuts proposed. The commission passed a resolution recommending an alternative package of budget reductions.
The administrator’s proposed cuts had been forwarded to Duncan, along with those from other departments. It was really up to the executive whether or not to accept the reductions recommended by his administrators. Although Aoyagi's proposals were not accepted, he was not upset about the decision.
“I think the executive was wise to say, ‘Let’s review the cuts in fire service in the context of the entire budget,’” he said. The Council did not need to be officially consulted about the proposals because they had, technically, already voted on the matter. “The Council has to approve every penny that’s spent, but this is money they’ve already approved,” said County Council Spokesman Patrick Lacefield. He explained that if the county is planning not to spend approved funds, it requires no further action.
The council’s first recourse, had they not agreed with Duncan’s cuts, would be to discuss them with the executive.
“We take the recommendations very seriously,” Denis said. If they could not have reached an arrangement after discussions, they would have had another option.
“The council has the ability to introduce and pass a special appropriation on its own,” Lacefield said.
Council will hold a public hearing on Feb. 6 to discuss the other aspects of the savings plans. “We’ll take testimony from the public,” Denis said.