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Closing of fire house on southeast side put on hold during virus outbreak

Closing of fire house on southeast side put on hold during virus outbreak

From the Tucson-area coronavirus coverage from January to March: Nearly 1,300 cases in Arizona, stay-at-home order series

A fire station south of Tucson that was set to close will remain open, for now, because of the coronavirus outbreak, officials say.

Rural Metro Station 81, at 966 Aerospace Pkwy., south of Tucson International Airport, serves about 5,000 residents. It was set to be closed in May unless union members and Global Medical Response, the company that owns the station, came to an agreement. The station handles about 1,100 calls annually, Nico Latini, president of the Old Pueblo Firefighters Association, the union that represents Rural Metro firefighters, has said in an earlier interview.

A March 17 email from David Banelli, vice president of labor relations for Global Medical Response read in part: “Due to the challenges presented by COVID 19 we are placing the station closure and pending layoffs on hold through the end of September. This by no means takes the issue off the table as it is imperative that we find a solution that places the Tucson fire operation on a sustainable track for continued operations.”

The planned closure would adversely affect response times. Rural Metro Fire does not have mutual aid or automatic aid agreements with the Tucson Fire Department, meaning other Rural Metro fire stations would have to respond to calls in the South Nogales Highway area.

Between nine and 15 employees will lose their jobs if the station closes, Latini has said.

But he said the most important effect a closure will have is on emergency response times in the area.

“We’re breathing a sigh of relief for the moment, but this is no time to celebrate,” Latini said in response to the delay in closing. “We will continue to fight to keep the public safe, to keep first responders safe and to ensure that this ill-advised, dangerous station closure never happens. It’s just not acceptable to risk lives like this, and to put profits before people in such a calculated, careless way.”

Global Medical Response officials said the decision to delay the closure is a result of the company focusing on the COVID-19 pandemic. 

"All efforts are on protecting the health and safety of our community," Tawnya Silloway, spokeswoman for the company, said in an email. "Discussions between fire leadership and the local firefighter’s union will continue in an effort to develop alternatives to the closure."

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