Chester, Pa. (WTXF) "Everyone in this room has seen death and destruction in this city," said Jay Gray. He’s a Chester City Firefighter who spoke before City Council regarding a proposal to cut staff or shut down one of two fire departments in the city.
"If you're going to eliminate 30 percent of our firefighters and what it seems not replace them then you're putting the citizens in jeopardy and our safety at risk,” he said.
Gray is one of dozens of people, mostly residents, who spoke during a public comment session at City Hall Tuesday night after Econsult Solutions, a firm hired by the city, presented a financial recovery plan for Chester called Act 47.
The plan includes several ways to cut the city's deficit but proposed cuts to fire and police drew the most heat from residents.
"If you lived on the west side and the only fire department was on the east side God forbid your house catch on fire," said Tohran Freeman. Former Chester Fire Commissioner James Johnson also spoke and said, “The Chester Fire Department's response from time of dispatch to your front door is under four minutes. I defy anybody's fire department to make that kind of response."
Freeman added, “You’re talking about cutting back police officers in a city where you got people getting killed every week.”
Officials also spoke of closing one fire department and opening up a new one in a central location in the city but that plan didn't go over well either.
"It has to be another solution to finding money," said another resident from the podium.
The president of the firefighter's union says they've already offered up several compromises.
"We've already agreed to make changes to our pension and we've agreed to make changes to our healthcare. We think with that and some other changes to be negotiated in the future we will be able to reach settlement without cutting 20 personnel," said Stacy Landrum of Local 1400 IAFF.
City Council could vote on the plan by August 27th. Officials say if they don’t act fast, the city’s $5.2 million deficit will only get worse.