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Amid budget crisis, IF fire station no. 5 closes overnight

By By Caleb James, Reporter
Published On: Jul 27 2013 01:05:22 AM CDT

Caleb James reports.

IDAHO FALLS, Idaho -

The city of Idaho Falls has finalized a $1.5 million contract with Bonneville County Fire District #1, to operate county services for 1 year.

The previous contract spanned 10 years.

On Friday our station asked city fire chief Dean Ellis and county fire commissioner Daniel Gubler why the agreement is so much shorter this time.

"The previous 10 year contract had a 3 percent increase built in every year," said Ellis.

Ellis said the county wanted to have flexibility to negotiate the contract year-to-year.

"The economic situation we have in the country, the 10 year contract we had automatic built-ins and step increases as far as cost," said Gubler.

At the very same time Idaho Falls city council members were voting to ratify the new contract on Thursday night, one Idaho Falls fire station was dark and empty due to an on-going overtime budget crisis.

Fire station no. 5 has been the face of a strained fire department over the past several weeks.

Thursday night the station was complete unoperational -- shut down completely -- for 10 to 12 hours.

"It is a creepy scene, it's not safe for the public," said Ellis. "Response time is a little slower, but we're going to be there."

Ellis said the bind he's in is as simple as it is stressful -- there's not enough money in the city's budget to pay his men to fill in on shifts they typically wouldn't work. T

The over-time pay is just too big of a hit on an already strained budget.

"If they ask for more cuts, the only place I can cut is manpower," said Ellis. "If I cut man power, I cut services." 

Services like direct response from station number 5 -- but Ellis says, a fire on the westside would be tackled as aggressively as ever -- getting there just might take some more time.

"If it's a fire, we respond with 3 stations, so probably stations 1, 3 and 4 probably would respond in there," he said.

It's just the way it has to be, said Ellis, if the money isn't there.

"I think that's something the public has to decide," he said. "Do we want to raise taxes, or do we want to keep it the same and cut services?"

Ellis says he hopes residents on the westside who have concerns about safety will contact their council members directly.

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