The Dewberry Fire Station is closing permanently at 4:45 p.m. this afternoon, city officials have confirmed.
The two trucks based at the station at 201 Dewberry Ave., Rescue Engine 7 and Truck 3, will be relocated to the Lincoln Fire Station on Easton Avenue.
Mayor John Callahan intends to renovate the Dewberry Avenue station and convert it to from where a portion of the city’s ambulance fleet will be dispatched.
Though the renovations are expected to cost the city $400,000, Callahan has said it will save the city about $1 million in capital expenses from the cost of building a new EMS center, which the city started 2011 with a plan to do. Those plans were rethought when construction bids for the project on Illick’s Mill Road came in hundreds of thousands of dollars over budget.
And there may be hundreds of thousands of dollars more in savings when firefighter overtime costs are factored into the equation.
City Council is likely going to be discussing the future of the station building tonight when it meets for its third budget hearing of the season.
Since the plans to close the fire station have come to light, there has been , mostly generated by firefighters themselves. Some City Council members have said they are opposed to closing the fire station, but have no authority under the city’s governing charter to stop it.
The city’s firefighters’ union has while an on-line petition opposing station closure, launched by a firefighter's wife, has picked up 401 signatures to date.
“The moving of this equipment will result in longer response times, jeopardizing the safety of the residents of the north central section of the city,” said David A. Saltzer, president of Local 735 of the International Association of Fire Fighters, through a news release today.
City administrators have countered that engines from Catasauqua Road and Easton Avenue can more than adequately serve the neighborhood. What’s more they say, city fire calls have been declining while demand for emergency medical services has been on the rise for years.
Saltzer said the fire department has set new records for call responses with 4,200 to date, though many of those have not been for fires. The fire department responds to car accidents, medical emergencies, chemical spills, water rescues and bomb scares as well as many non-emergency duties, including fire drills and alarm installations.
The firefighters union chief has also argued that the relocated engine and truck will “not necessarily be staffed and ready to respond to a call.”
Fire Commissioner George Barkanic said the trucks will be fully staffed when no firefighters call out sick.
The city is now no longer required to call out replacements for sick firefighters thanks to an October state arbitration ruling that removed a contracted minimum staffing requirement of 22 firefighters per shift in Bethlehem.
The city now voluntarily staffs no less than 20 firefighters per shift, the commissioner said. “We feel that’s a good safe number,” Barkanic said.
Each platoon has 25 or 26 firefighters with no more than four on vacation from one platoon at any time, Barkanic said.
Under the old minimum staffing rules, the city paid $815,000 in firefighters overtime in 2010, more than three times what it paid three years earlier. The administration’s proposed 2012 budget calls for $200,000 in firefighters’ overtime.