The emergency response to a drowning-cardiac arrest call last weekend was delayed by Cape Coral's practice of taking a rescue truck out of service to save money, a fire union official charged Monday during a City Council meeting.
"Service is being cut. The city is playing Russian roulette," said Brendan Fonock, the union's local vice president.
A rescue unit was shut down or browned out at the Chiquita Boulevard and Cape Coral Parkway station when the call came in. A unit from a station on Pelican Boulevard had to be sent to the call, according to Fonock.
No other details of the call were available Monday night. Fire Chief Bill van Helden could not be reached for comment.
"It's going to continue to happen," Fonock said outside the meeting.
"You brought up some things I'm sure we'll want to respond to," said Councilman Pete Brandt.
Some of it is alarming and a report is needed from the chief and the city manager, Brandt said.
But Councilman Chris Chulakes-Leetz had some harsh words for Fonock.
"Brownouts are a necessary evil due to our financial position," Chulakes-Leetz said.
He said it's irresponsible and offensive to politicize the issue when the city is trying to do the best it can with what it has. Chulakes-Leetz said he has to be careful what he says because the city and the firefighters union are still in contract negotiations.
The delay could have been caused by traffic, or even if the crew was in a store, Chulakes-Leetz said.
"I'm very disappointed in your presentation tonight," Chulakes-Leetz told Fonock.
The city has been using brownouts for about 16 months as a way to control overtime costs. Overtime costs were increasing because the department eliminated 31 firefighter positions since 2007.
Instead of calling firefighters in on overtime to fill in for firefighters on leave, the department takes a rescue truck out of service for the day and reassigns the two-man crew.