Fire fighters admit fears of budget cuts

DeWayne Bartels
Peoria fire chief Kent Tomblin, left, talks to Peoria corporation counsel Randy Ray, following last week's Peoria City Council meeting. Tomblin and the firefighters below him are worried about budget cuts.

Peoria firefighters fear little, according to Peoria fire chief Kent Tomblin. But, one thing Tomblin and the men of Peoria Fire Station 16 on Northmoor Road admit they fear is a city council looking for ways to cut a budget deficit.

Tomblin and his men have seen what a council bent on cutting costs have done in the past to the fire department. Prior to last week’s city council meeting Tomblin admitted his fear.

“I’m absolutely afraid about cuts,” Tomblin said. “Every department head in the city has that fear.”

One firefighter, working at the 16 House, on the condition of anonymity, spoke bluntly about his fears.

Over the years, he said, the fire department has made it easy for the council to cut their funding despite the increase in calls, the growth of the city and the trimming of manpower because of their dedication to their work and their skill.

“The question,” the firefighter said, “is are we that good or just lucky?

“Until we have a problem that results in a problem, or a crisis, the city doesn’t care about the problems we face, especially in North Peoria.”

He said until a “fat-cat” Caterpillar executive or his family member needs the fire department and they cannot respond in a timely manner because they are stretched too thin in North Peoria the city will ignore their issues.

“We are in some ways our own worst enemy,” the firefighter said. “We just keep doing the impossible with what we have. Everybody down there (city hall) looks at firemen and say, ‘What are they doing?’ Well, we’re here when we’re needed. That’s what we’re doing.”

Randy Osborne, 51, an acting captain at Station 16, said he is aware of the frustration the anonymous fireman expressed. Osborne said firefighters are used to fighting so others can survive. He said they are not used to fighting for the survival of their jobs.

“Since we are stretched so thin I don’t see how we can survive any cuts,” Osborne said. “Any cuts out here will result in even longer response times.”

Tony Ardis, president of Firefighters Local 50, said his men’s fears are justified.

“Any time you run into a deficit we’re concerned. People in North Peoria should be  as well. It’s no secret North Peoria is under-served,” Ardis said.

“The people in North Peoria have to ask themselves if they can live with fire protection the way it is now in North Peoria. If they answer yes, they then need to ask themselves, ‘How long?’”