Peoria Firefighters Worry Spending Cuts Threaten Public Safety

Nov 3, 2017

A grate inside Fire Department Station 4 has a distinct smell. Firefighter Nick Anderson says when every time his colleagues wash the fire trucks and the engine bay, "we start that water up and it starts going in the drain, it kicks that smell up, and you smell the sewage.”
Credit Cass Herrington / Peoria Public Radio

In 2018, the Peoria Fire Department could be down a truck and eleven firefighters. That’s if a city budget proposal gets council approval this month. 

Firefighters worry the cuts threaten public safety, particularly to residents on the North Side. This comes as the department is already short on some fundamental resources and amenities.

Station number four, situated on the South Side, has a certain smell.

“It stinks in here from the sewage gas.”

That’s Firefighter Nick Anderson, who’s been at this station, affectionately called “the four house,” for five years. He’s in the garage, where the fire trucks are housed and where firefighters suit up when a call comes in. Anderson points over to a drainage grate in the concrete floor.

“That’s probably where the smell comes from. There’s a film on top of it, that every day we wash our machines, wash the floors down, keep the bay clean," Anderson said. "Any time we start that water up and it starts going in the drain, it kicks that smell up, and you smell the sewage.”

There’s also a coating of black soot on the walls from the diesel exhaust. The urinals upstairs leak down to the second floor, a bedroom ceiling leaks when it rains... Anderson says the guys joke that people who start at the Four House get a “two week cold” and then build up immunity to just about anything. But despite its flaws, he’s quick to say, he’s not complaining.

“The guys who work here, love working here. This is a special breed of firefighters that are going to work at this house. There are certain people that don’t come down here because of the conditions of the house," Anderson said. 

"We like it, we’re busy, we like running the calls down here, we like the people down here. We don’t complain, but it just gets old, after year after year you’ve put in requests for things to get fixed, and nothing gets fixed.”

Leaky, rusted-out urinals are one of about 40 delayed upgrades at Station 4.
Credit Cass Herrington / Peoria Public Radio

Firefighters at the Four House say the growing list of about 40 tabled upgrades isn’t their biggest concern.

Another Firefighter, Nate Rice, says the number one priority is public safety. Clearly, he says, it comes with the vocation.

“Because of our nature, because of who we are and what we do, we don’t want to see that safety jeopardized. Not only for us, but for the citizens that we serve,” Rice said. 

Rice and his team say the City’s proposal to mothball Ladder Truck 14 would put additional strain on their station. They say taking that truck out of service would increase the response time to the North Side from 8 minutes to 15.  

On the other hand, the cuts that include keeping unfilled 11 vacancies would save the city an estimated $1.1 million. Proponents of the reductions also argue that a large number of dispatch calls aren’t emergencies.

During a budget session this week, City Manager Patrick Urich told the Council that only three-percent of the calls that come in are fire-related.

“Nearly nine percent of the calls are for falls, where it’s literally a public assist. Somebody has fallen down, and we’re picking them up," Urich said. "There’s calls where we’re showing up if somebody’s sick or there’s a medical alarm.”

The firefighters point to a term used by emergency responders called “the golden hour.” It’s the first hour following a traumatic injury, and it’s considered the most critical window of time for a successful rescue or medical treatment. That’s why they say the difference between having that fire truck and taking it out of service is a matter of life and death. Council could vote as soon as next Tuesday.