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Fire Chief Wants Additional $12.8 Million Annually

When it comes to being better prepared for the next heavy rains to hit the city, the Fire Department would like an additional four rescue boats, six “prime mover” vehicles to deploy the boats, and seven more “high water” vehicles, of which the city currently has one.

It’s not often that people ask Houston City Council for additional funds, and the Council’s response is, “Are you sure that’s enough?” But that was the case Tuesday, when Houston Fire Chief Samuel Pena addressed the Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee.

“The only real concern that I have with your presentation is that you might not be getting enough, or that your requests are really modest,” says David Robinson who is the Council At-Large Position 2, regarding Pena’s request for an additional $12,830,000 annually.

Pena says the majority of that money would go towards replacing outdated equipment.

“We really have a basic and ongoing moral and legal responsibility to provide safe and functional apparatus and equipment to our personnel.”

Currently the city has 88 fire vehicles in its fleet, and replaces four a year. Pena would like to up that to 10 per year.

When it comes to being better prepared for the next heavy rains to hit the city, the Houston Fire Department would like an additional four rescue boats, six “prime mover” vehicles to deploy the boats, and seven more “high water” vehicles, of which the city currently has one.

As he reflected not only on how the fire department dealt with Harvey, but in normal day-to-day use, Chief Pena also believes the city must address how it handles 911 calls. “We say we’re going to be at your door in six minutes or less travel time, 90% of the time. In order to do that we have to deploy every available resource. It doesn’t matter if it’s the wrong resource. All we are doing is getting to the door, stopping the clock and then we’re calling additional resources that really are able to take care of the issue. We cannot continue to do that,” he says. 

Pena would also like to spend $330,000 annually to train an additional 360 field officers in swift water rescue procedures. Currently, Houston has less than 200 trained for situations like Harvey.

Fiscal Affairs Committee Chair, Councilwoman Brenda Stardig, thinks it’s not only important to find the funds requested in the next budget, but in all future budgets.

“As a native Houstonian I don’t want things changing according to political will, I want things to be predictable and that we leverage our dollars and we continue to do it not on the deferred maintenance plan,” said Stardig, who also thinks there’s a way to protect the funds from politics.

“We’ve got a few ideas, I’ve just got it together and get some support and I think we can get it done.”

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