Yakima Looking to Cut Fire Department's Battalion Chiefs

YAKIMA, Wash.-- Yakima city leaders are looking at a plan to reorganize the fire department. They say it'll mean more crews on the ground and better safety for the public, but some say it would have negative consequences.

The plan would essentially get rid of the city's three battalion chiefs. Firefighters who work around the clock doing administrative duties and taking command of fires when crews respond.

The city says the reorganization is all about efficiency, but union reps think the public will suffer as a result.

"How can we better utilize existing resources and get more frontline service to the public," said Tony O'Rourke, Yakima's city manager.

To do it, the city would eliminate three battalion chiefs from the department. The city says it would then add a deputy chief, and with the nearly half-million dollar savings, they'd be able to hire three new firefighters.  

"We just believe we need more boots on the ground, than we need command staff," O'Rourke said.

But, the department's union president says it's a bad idea.

"We'd be losing the one person that's assigned to our shifts who's solely dedicated to command," said Jeremy Rodriguez, president of the Yakima Firefighters Association.

Rodriguez says without the chiefs, other crew members would have to take on the command role, taking away from the number of people actively fighting the flames.

O'Rourke says the command position will still be filled though by the deputy chiefs. Even when they're not on the clock, they'll be on call to respond when they're needed.

But Rodriguez isn't sold.

"Our concern right now is I don't think we're going to generate the efficiencies that, in the long run, that they're saying we're going to get," Rodriguez said.

O'Rourke says one of those battalion chiefs is set to retire soon and the other two will be shuffled within the department, so no one would lose their job.

The decision is still a few months away from being made. The city council will have the final say.

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