Fire Station Brownouts Return, But On An As-Needed, Occasional Basis

As the city struggled with budget cutbacks, brownouts--scheduled closures of some fire stations-- were a necessary, but worrisome feature of the fire department's schedule in recent years.

Fourteen million dollars in federal money allowed the Reno Fire Department to fill 64 firefighter positions and that seemed to solve the manpower issue that led to the brownouts.

It did, says Chief Michael Hernandez, but it didn't cover all the costs of those hirings nor did it solve all the city's budget problems.

"It does not provide for overtime," says Reno Fire Chief Michael Hernandez. "It just provides for the straight salary of the employees."

And as the city approaches the final quarter of the fiscal year, overtime is an issue.

Most of the time, the chief says, the city has enough staff to man all the stations, but in recent weeks, the flu bug hit the department hard and holding to a no overtime policy meant some brief closures, typically a shift or two during a day at Station 7 on Skyline Boulevard and 19 in Somersett, the two stations with the least calls for service.

"Brownouts are not back on a regular basis," says the Chief. "They are dependent on our staffing levels and as soon as we enter our new budget year we're going to take a look at our staffing matrix. We're going to look at the number of people that have retired and we will look at how we're going to move forward in staffing our department."

In the meantime, he says, when fire danger is high or there's an emergency, though the overtime ban goes out the window.

"If there's a credible threat or risk that our community's going to face, then we need to staff our stations to be prepared."

And, he says, holding off on overtime now, helps insure there will be a reserve there when and if needed.

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