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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, May 1, 2010

Night fire crews may get smaller

By David Waite
Advertiser Staff Writer

Beginning today, overtime pay will be harder to come by for Honolulu firefighters and that could mean fewer crewmembers on trucks sent to fire scenes, especially during late-night hours, fire officials said yesterday.

But that does not mean the public or firefighter safety will be compromised in any way, said Capt. Terry Seelig, Honolulu Fire Department spokesman.

Efforts to cut back on overtime costs have been ongoing since November, Seelig said.

"We have to balance the needs for staffing with these overtime changes so that we can stay within our budget," Seelig said. "We will still have the means to respond to large events like the recent tsunami scare or the long-term wildfires that we have."

As of today, however, the department will no longer use money from its overtime account to keep certain firefighters on duty overnight.

The department hopes to better manage leave requests or shift firefighters around from station to station to meet personnel needs.

"It does not necessarily mean we will have less firefighters aboard each (truck) that is sent out although fewer people is a possibility," Seelig said. "But we're certainly not going to cut staff back to the point that it makes things unsafe for our firefighters or diminishes our service to the public."

Changes in the way the department uses overtime money "was driven" by budget concerns, Seelig said.

"Staffing is the fire department's biggest cost. Managing overtime is a way to stay within our budget. We have realized like every other department in the city or across the state or the country that because of the national recession and the decline in revenues we have to be fiscally prudent," Seelig said.

While large fires can and do break out any time of day, there are fewer of them in the late evening and early morning hours. That's why the department decided to adjust staffing levels at those times of day, Seelig said.

And while mention has been made of cutting back on staff assigned to the department's fireboat, no reductions are planned at this time, Seelig said.