Controller Butkovitz Says Fire Policies Jeopardized Public Safety, Cost City Millions

For Immediate Release
Feb. 11, 2016

Contact:  Brian Dries

Controller Butkovitz Says Fire Policies Jeopardized Public Safety, Cost City Millions   
City Controller issues complete Fire Response Audit; details impact of Brownouts & Rotation Policies

PHILADELPHIA – City Controller Alan Butkovitz today released the complete audit of the Philadelphia Fire Department’s Response Time that found former Mayor Nutter’s policies jeopardized public safety and contributed to an increase of almost $20 million in overtime costs. 

The Brownout Policy went into effect in 2010, which included daily closures of several engine companies during day and night shifts.  The Rotation Policy was implemented in 2013 in an effort to ensure that all firefighters have equal opportunity to work in various assignments.  Throughout these years, the Fire Department’s response rates dropped from 80 percent to as low as 74 percent.

The national standard requires first engines to arrive in five minutes and 20 seconds for 90 percent of the time.

“Any policies that impact our firefighters’ abilities to respond quickly should be eliminated,” said Butkovitz.  “Every second counts when you’re counting on others to save lives.”

According to Controller Butkovitz, travel to fire emergencies can take more time because of longer distances traveled by fire engines covering for others in browned-out fire stations.  In fact, the distance for covering engines to reach certain high-hazard occupancies, which include hospitals, schools and nursing homes, have become difficult to reach on time.  

Controller Butkovitz identified several high-hazard occupancies throughout the city, including Holy Family Nursing Home, Northeast neighborhoods; Lamberton Elementary School and the Congregation Beth Yeshua Synagogue, Cobbs Creek neighborhood; and the Cheltenham Nursing and Rehabilitation Center and the St. Jude Syro Malankara Catholic Church, East Oak Lane.

“When Engine 18 in the Northeast was browned-out, half of the covering engines were more than two miles from the selected hazard,” said Butkovitz.  “This has made it extremely difficult for those engines to arrive on scene within the required time.”

In addition, former Mayor Nutter asserted that the Brownout Policy would lead to reduced overtime costs of $3.8 million.  However, overtime for firefighters climbed from $15.7 million in fiscal year 2010 to $34.2 million in fiscal year 2014.  The overtime costs increased every year during this time period.

“It’s unfathomable that public safety would be jeopardized in an attempt to cut costs,” said Butkovitz.  “Not only did they put lives in danger but the policies contributed to doubling the overtime costs.

The Controller’s audit also found that data regarding on-scene arrival times in the Fire Department’s database was sometimes incomplete and inaccurate, often when the fire incident involved a death or injury.  This included three separate incidents from 2010 through 2014 that involved children, elderly and firefighters who died or were injured. 

“The Fire Department needs to take corrective actions for not recording the appropriate time components in the emergency database,” said Butkovitz.  “Missing or incomplete data is unacceptable.”