Houston Fire Chief: Lack of Funding Places Firefighters, Citizens at Risk
Oct. 10—Houston Fire Chief Sam Pena gave City Council a bleak assessment Tuesday of his department's readiness to respond to significant rainstorms and even to daily fire and medical calls, saying a ramshackle fleet and inadequate training are putting the safety of both citizens and firefighters at risk.
The Houston Fire Department must double its annual spending on engines, ladders and ambulances, the chief said, and must ramp up its purchases of water rescue apparatus and the training to enable personnel to operate them.
The department has a "moral and legal" duty, Pena said, to provide safe and effective apparatus to its 4,100 firefighters and the citizens they serve.
"We haven't allocated the right resources to ensure we're preparing our firefighters to do the job we're asking them to do," said Pena, who became chief last December. "In the time that I've been here, we are eroding as far as our skillset and as far as our fleet. We have to make a decision about what we want our fire department to do and what we're willing to fund."
HFD has received funding for 20 of the 47 engines its leaders asked for in the last three budget cycles, has gotten 10 of the 19 ladder and tower trucks they sought, and received money for 36 of the 75 ambulances they requested.
The city has budgeted between $5.5 million and $5.8 million per year for the next five years to purchase fire apparatus, but Pena said $11 million is needed annually to ensure HFD reaches his recommended replacement rate of nine engines per year, four ladders or towers and 16 ambulances per year.
HFD also would need to spend $1.7 million to buy the necessary water rescue equipment he says are needed -- including 21 additional boats and high water vehicles -- and $330,500 to train more firefighters to operate them.
Councilwoman Brenda Stardig, whose past requests for additional rescue funding for the department have been voted down, praised Pena's detailed presentation, which included charts showing how many vehicles HFD has purchase in each year, dating back to the mid-1990s.
"I have more confidence in this proposal than I've had in the past, to be quite frank," Stardig said.