LAKEWOOD, Colo. (CBS4) – One of the largest fire departments in Colorado is talking about cutting staff and resources after narrowly missing out on a tax hike that would have kept the department intact.
The West Metro Fire Protection District serves more than 250,000 people in parts of Golden, Wheat Ridge, Littleton, Roxborough and Waterton Canyon in Douglas County, and the entire cities of Lakewood and Morrison.
There were approximately 35,000 votes cast and the district lost by just 800. Now the consequences are about to occur. When a fire breaks out West Metro will still respond quickly, but not with all the personnel and equipment it has available at the present time.
Chief Don Lombardi says voters turned down a higher tax rate and now he must act.
“There will be impacts to our public from a perception that we’re not there as quick. Or that certain apparatus we’re not going to show up on scene,” Lombardi said.
The station on Chatfield Road near Kipling will remain open, but could lose an engine and three of its firefighters. The department’s Heavy Rescue Unit will no longer be fully staffed, and Station 4 on Green Mountain will lose three of its people.
West Metro will see personnel cuts through attrition and there will be demotions to save money.
“To watch somebody have to take a demotion or somebody lose a job, that’s a difficult thing to watch,” Metro FireFighters IAFF Local 1309 President Mike Frainier said.
Training will also be impacted to pare down the $66 million budget.
District firefighters at their peak make around $66,000 a year. Civilian employees will also be impacted. Lombardi has taken a voluntary pay cut himself and now makes $149,000.
“I grew up with all these guys, and so I know how it affects them professionally, and I know how it affects them personally,” Lombardi said.
He says cuts in service could lead to rises in insurance rates over the long term and avoiding one cost increase now could lead to one later.
The plans still have to be approved by the district’s board, which could mean seven fewer firefighters on the street every day. They will take effect the first of the year if passed.