"I know we sent a scare through Minneapolis."
That's the assessment of Assistant Chief Cherie Penn, spokesperson for the Minneapolis Fire Department, about the department considering .
"A scare" is putting it mildly. The thought of many areas of the city, including large swaths of Southwest Minneapolis, in danger of being more than a few minutes away from a fire station sent residents and city councilmembers alike into a minor panic.
"Response time is a phrase that stands in for the thousands and thousands of medical runs done by our fire department every month," Ward 12 councilmember Sandy Colvin Roy said. "A five-minute delay is going to seem like an eternity to a family who doesn't know how to do (chest) compressions or keep a heart attack patient alive."
Under a new plan, unveiled at a city budget hearing on Thursday, fire Chief Alex Jackson said he would still face the same problems of operating with, on average, a minimum of 92 firefighters on any given day. Penn explained that the department would likely be one or more firefighters below that daily target for about 80 percent of the time in 2012.
However, by prioritizing which fire trucks get their personnel reassigned to fill vacancies , Jackson said it would take as many as four unplanned absences to knock a pumper or a ladder truck offline. These vehicles are the department's main way of responding to medical emergencies, as well as fires.
Under the old setup, a personnel shortfall in one area of the city would have idled one of the department's less-busy trucks in areas such as Linden Hills and parts of far-south Minneapolis to free up firefighters. Penn said she wasn't sure in 2012 how frequently the department would fall below the 92-firefighter threshold.