St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman says he will cut a rescue squad from the St. Paul Fire Department against the recommendation of a special task force, and the firefighter's union warns that could jeopardize public safety.
When a rescue squad rolls out, that means that firefighters are pulling out all the stops in order to save lives during the most difficult emergencies imaginable, including building collapses, chemical spills or worse.
"It's an essential piece of our fleet," said Mike Smith, of the Firefighters Union, Local 21.
Firefighters fired back at Coleman after he announced his plan to cut one of the three highly-specialized squads.
"Any time you eliminate any rig or squad, you're taking a risk of a delayed response time," warned Smith. "You're taking another apparatus out of our city."
The president of the union sent an e-mail to the mayor, asking him to reconsider and stressing that the decision to cut a rescue squad would go against the recommendation of the special task force that was created to solve the budget shortfall.
In April, the task force -- which includes union members -- decided to keep the rescue squad in operation as long as the union would allow four firefighters to staff the rigs instead of five. The firefighters would not be laid off. Instead, they would be reassigned, and the change would still save money.
The union told FOX 9 News it only agreed to those terms through 2013, but Coleman and Fire Chief Tim Butler said the agreement was open-ended.
"Oh, they definitely agreed to that," Butler said, adding that a short-term agreement wouldn't' make much sense. "Whatever changes we made in our budget, we wanted those changes to be permanent; we wanted them to be stable for multiple years because this is the new norm."
The rescue squad could be out of service by the end of the month, but Butler insists the department will still be well-equipped to handle any emergency.
Coleman is expected to announce his new budget on Monday, and his spokesman told FOX 9 News that public safety is his highest priority.