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Idaho Falls will cut firefighter overtime, potentially closing station

We rely on our first responders in times of emergency, but imagine learning the fire station closest to you is closed.

That could be a reality for neighbors on the west side of Idaho Falls. The city’s fire department faces budget constraints so strict, that the city will no longer allow firefighters to work overtime.

Fire station no. 5 on the west side of town will feel the brunt of those cuts.

If a house in the Bellin Rd. area neighborhood catches fire, typically, a crew from fire station number 5, right down the street, would respond.

Right now, if firefighters here are on overtime pay, the station could be operating with a partial staff, or closed all together.

“Response time has increased,” said Duane Nelson, president of the International Firefighters Association Local 1565 union.

“The dangers to firefighters and the danger to public has increased,” he said.

Nelson said anyone who lives in Idaho Falls needs to know about the problem.

“Constituents of Idaho Falls are receiving less service,” said Nelson.

On Thursday, fire chief Dean Ellis asked the Idaho Falls city council to increase the department’s overtime budget. That request was denied.

“He called me and told me we were going to have to make some manpower adjustments,” said Nelson.

No money for overtime means less firefighters on duty — especially at the west side’s station no. 5.

“Instead of the 4 people who are normally staffed here, we’ve run with 2 to 3 people,” he said.

At station no. 5, half staff means half service.

“Instead of 2 apparatus running out of this fire station, an engine and an ambulance, there’s only enough people to drive out one of those apparatus,” said Nelson.

In case of emergency: a choice; what’s more important — an ambulance or an engine?

On Monday Nelson said there were only 3 people on duty.

Idaho Falls city councilman and fire safety committee member Ken Taylor on Monday said the cuts will last through the end of the fiscal year.

“This is a 3 month experiment to see how much it’s needed and what the impact is,” said Taylor. “That’s how we find out what the impact is. The calls on the west side have been less than other areas. That’s why we’re looking at that particular station.”

Councilman Taylor said fire chief Dean Ellis is presenting the council with research on the impact of overtime over a 5 year period, and other research to aid in this ongoing discussion.

Our calls to fire chief Dean Ellis were not returned on Monday night.

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