Roughly two-thirds of the firefighters in South Tucson have now indicated they will resign by the end of the month, leaving residents of the small city wondering if there will be enough personnel to adequately respond to emergencies.
A former South Tucson firefighter claimed that due to the mass resignations there are two days next month where only one Fire Department employee is scheduled to work on a specific shift.
The claim could not be independently verified.
City Manager Sixto Molina said it was too early to tell which firefighters will be working specific shifts next month, noting the city is working quickly to find replacements and persuade some firefighters not to leave the department.
As of Tuesday afternoon, 19 of the city’s 30 firefighters have submitted their resignations ahead of a March 1 deadline.
The date coincides with a planned shift from four-member fire truck crews — a nationally recognized safety standard — to three-person crews as a budget-saving measure for the financially troubled one-square-mile city.
Among those leaving is the former head of the department, administrative Capt. Cory Lakosky.
He said the loss of one person on the fire truck endangers the lives of crews and the public needing emergency services.
About 50 residents showed up to the South Tucson City Council meeting Monday night, many to protest the resignations and demand the council fully fund the department.
Resident Arlene Lopez told the council she is worried about elderly residents with serious medical issues who may need emergency help.
“With a skeleton crew, how are you going to respond to multiple 911 calls? Whose life is going to be on the line?” she asked the council.
During the meeting, the city’s finance director outlined the various stresses on the city’s budget, telling residents and the council the city is largely operating paycheck to paycheck and that there are no cash reserves.
The council opted last year to use the city’s remaining cash reserves to balance the budget as it was facing a projected $624,000 shortfall.
Earlier in the year, the council was asked to consider eliminating the entire department and contracting with another agency as it attempted to address the shortfall.
The annual budget for the department is $677,103.
The department is comprised mainly of employees classified as part time.
Molina said the top priority is to return to four-personnel response crews, but the city’s dwindling funds forced the council to make some difficult decisions, including moving to smaller crews.
He said he is working to find solutions to the budget problems.
Vice Mayor Vanessa Mendoza said she was concerned about the lack of firefighters and offered to forgo her $200-a-month stipend for serving on the council to help the budget situation.
But even as the city looks to hire new firefighters, the council is facing another budget shortfall in the coming fiscal year.
This time the council will be asked to consider finding another $375,000 in budget cuts before the new fiscal year starts July 1.