Thanks to a budget balanced without staff reductions, no York City firefighter lost his job when the calendar flipped to 2013.

Yet, York City has fewer firefighters now than it did just a year ago.

The 2013 budget proposed by Mayor Kim Bracey and approved in December by the York City Council eliminated five positions that became vacant when firefighters retired in early 2012, leaving the department with 59 firefighters.

The president of the York Professional Firefighters Association, York City firefighters' union, said recently that he believes city officials' decision not to replace those firefighters is a dangerous one.

The fire department was approaching minimum levels even with 64 firefighters at the beginning of 2012, Fred DeSantis said. He called the latest staff reductions "another assault on our fire department."

"We're at the point now, bones and skeletons, somebody's going to get hurt," DeSantis said. "It's just that simple. Somebody's going to get hurt."

Under current staffing levels, DeSantis said, the department is responding immediately to fires with a maximum of 10 and a minimum of eight city firefighters arriving on four pieces of city equipment - three engines and a ladder truck.

A fourth engine was taken out of service in September 2011 as a cost-saving measure.

"If we can get to at least 10 and put that fire engine back in service, that would be a big help," DeSantis said.

Meanwhile, the city's acting fire chief stopped short of saying he is comfortable with current staffing levels.


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Chief David Michaels said he'd be crazy not to want more firefighters on staff.

But, Michaels said, he is most concerned with maintaining the department's number of active engines - a factor directly related to how quickly firefighters can respond to calls for help.

"We're definitely at a point where we cannot go below the amount of equipment we have in service right now," he said.

With 59 firefighters, Michaels said he is confident in the department's ability to handle one fire.

But, he said, concerns begin to arise about a scenario in which multiple fires are burning in the city or surrounding area.

Councilwoman Renee Nelson, who informally proposed to add three firefighter positions to Bracey's budget last month, said she would like the fourth engine returned to service to improve the department's response time.

Getting to fires as quickly as possible is critical in a densely populated city, she said.

Another council member said he believes the fire department's staffing level is "appropriate."

Councilman Henry Nixon said he sees no advantage to replacing the retired firefighters "when we've managed to take care of all the fires responding with the same amount of people for months now."

"If it's not necessary, we can't afford it," Nixon said.

He conceded that the fire department might have to cut back on responding to non-fire incidents.

"Are we amply staffed to take care of cats that are trapped in a tree? I don't know," Nixon said.

DeSantis said it's irresponsible of city officials to rely on mutual-aid agreements with fire departments in surrounding municipalities. There will be times, he said, when those departments are busy with fires in their own areas.

"You're not always guaranteed that that mutual aid's going to show up," he said.

- Erin James may also be reached at ejames@yorkdispatch.com.