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Thursday April 17th 2014

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Firefighters say protest is over safety

By Jesse Farthing

Local firefighters are picketing outside Pensacola International Airport in protest of a money-saving proposal by the city that will reduce the number of on-site firefighters at the airport from three to two.

Airport Director Greg Donovan initiated the proposal as a way to save $541,000 in the airport budget, but firefighters say it will hamper airport safety because it will mean no captain will be on scene to direct the two lieutenants in an emergency. A captain will have to arrive with a crew from one of the other nearby stations in the case of an emergency, increasing the time it will take for emergency containment.

“It’s going to leave the airport at the mercy of the two outside stations, before a captain can be on scene to dictate and tell everybody what they need to do,” Captain Jose Cobbs said in a phone interview. “The only problem with that is, they are going to have to actually be in the station and not out on another call. We all know how emergencies are – they are not a timed thing. Nobody knows what’s going to happen. For us it’s a safety issue.”

According to Cobbs, Pensacola’s airport is already operating with fewer on-site firefighters than other comparably sized airports. Pensacola has three on-site firefighters – two lieutenants and one captain – while Mobile has five at all times and Panama City has five during the week and operates with a minimum of three on weekends.

“Enough is enough,” Cobbs said. “You’re cutting it so thin that you’re willing to gamble the people flying in and out of the airport and you’re playing with the safety response.”

The firefighters plan to picket outside the airport until 6 p.m. on Tuesday and then outside city hall from noon to 6 p.m. on Wednesday, where Cobbs said the council will be making the final decision on the budget cut. They will not picket outside the airport on Wednesday, Sept. 11.

“It’s almost a slap in the face for us to picket on that day,” Cobbs sad. “We all know what September 11th is. The city picked that date. I almost think they did it on purpose so that people are thinking about other things.”