Additional facts must be considered on the pending firefighter terminations discussed in the Star Tribune's editorial "Firefighter layoffs highlight key issue" (Aug. 25).
Last year, Minneapolis firefighters responded to nearly 34,000 calls for assistance -- roughly one call every 15 minutes, all day, every day.
Of those calls, 70 percent were for medical emergencies such as heart attacks, strokes and accidents. "Firefighters" are really medical, fire and disaster emergency responders.
Minneapolis firefighters and citizens would be safer if the city fully met federal standards by having four firefighters on each fire apparatus able to respond anywhere in the city within four minutes.
We currently do not meet those standards, as the Minneapolis Fire Department has already seen a nearly 20 percent reduction in force from 473 to 401 since 2003.
A look at comparable cities reveals how stark the problem is. The best comparison is St. Paul.
Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak believes that 388 firefighters is adequate. St. Paul has 434 firefighters. Yet, St. Paul has 100,000 fewer residents and far fewer daily commuters who work in the city.
As a percentage of its budget, St. Paul devotes nearly twice the resources to its fire department than does Minneapolis.
In a broader comparison to similar-sized U.S. cities, Minneapolis finishes dead last in both firefighters per 1,000 residents and firefighters as a percentage of population density.
Whether responding to a heart attack, stroke, car accident or a fire, every second counts and can mean the difference between life and death. Despite already enduring significant staffing cuts, the Minneapolis Fire Department has been able to maintain 19 fire stations.
While saving on payroll, these cuts have caused an increase in firefighter injuries, resulting in higher worker's compensation claims and sick leave use, and in overtime incurred to stop-gap staffing shortages.
If further cuts are imposed, we will no longer be able to maintain 19 stations.
Chief Alex Jackson announced that, in order to operate with 13 fewer firefighters, he will have to close four stations -- Stations 2, 19, 21 and 22 -- on a rotating basis.
This means that 20 percent of the city will periodically face response times of as much as 10 minutes -- more than twice the federal standard.
We are at the breaking point.
The city charter specifies that the City Council may impose layoffs in the fire department only when firefighters "can be released without impairing the working efficiency of such department."
Clearly, the efficiency of the fire department will be impaired by the proposed layoffs. This does not have to happen.
Minneapolis has an annual budget of $1.1 billion, including a general-fund budget of nearly $400 million. There is money to adequately staff our fire department. The problem is not one of resources, but one of priorities.
Ironically, on the same day the editorial appeared, another article described the city's plan to hire a "bicycle coordinator" with total compensation of nearly $100,000.
The 2011 budget already increased the staffing of the following departments: The mayor's office, regulatory services, the city attorney's office, internal audit, and community relations.
Yet, should a bicyclist be injured in an accident, the call for help will go to the fire department, not to any of those City Hall offices.
Some city officials are blaming the state's cut to local government aid for the elimination of these 13 positions. Yes, LGA was frozen at the 2010 level for 2011 and beyond.
This was no surprise; some cities even considered it a victory. No other Minnesota city responded to this freeze by cutting firefighters.
In fact, four cities are now adding firefighters. By blaming the state, city officials are abdicating their responsibility to prioritize services.
Minneapolis firefighters have always responded to emergencies with valor. We saved the downtown from the disastrous 1982 Thanksgiving fire.
We were recognized nationally for our heroic efforts in response to the Interstate 35W bridge collapse. After the recent North Side tornado, we cleared the streets on our own time so our engines could get to people.
We have always been there when the public needed us.
Now we need the public to rescue us -- by telling the City Council to maintain, not cut, the fire department's staffing.
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Mark Lakosky is president of Minneapolis Firefighters Local 82 AFL-CIO.