TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - A community just south of the Tucson International Airport will keep its local fire station, at least for now.
Last month, Rural Metro Fire and Global Medical Response planned to close Fire Station 81 on May 1, citing “financial difficulties."
The fire station serves about 5,000 rural residents and employs about 15 firefighters.
Now, the company is delaying the station’s potential closure for six months.
“The decision comes as a result of the company making every effort to focus on the current COVID-19 pandemic affecting our country,” Karl Isselhard, the chief of the Pima County Rural Metro Fire Department, said in a statement. “All efforts are on protecting the health and safety of our community. Discussions between fire leadership and the local firefighter’s union will continue in an effort to develop alternatives to the closure.”
The Old Pueblo Fire Fighter’s Association (OPFFA), a union representing the firefighters at Station 81, calls this “a big win for Tucson public safety”.
“We’re breathing a sigh of relief for the moment, but this is no time to celebrate,” said Nico Latini, the president of the OPFFA and a Rural Metro firefighter since 2008. “We will continue to fight to keep the public safe, to keep first responders safe and to ensure that this ill-advised, dangerous station closure never happens. It’s just not acceptable to risk lives like this, and to put profits before people in such a calculated, careless way.”
Latini said closing the fire station could double, even triple emergency response times.
In an email to the OPFFA, Global Medical Response said placing the closure on hold “by no means takes the issue off the table.”
Rural Metro fire is a private department that provides services to subscribers in unincorporated areas across the state. The company said this creates additional challenges when residents “choose not to subscribe to the service yet depend on it as the primary agency in the event of a fire or medical emergency."
While Latini is pleased by the decision to remain open for now, he says it’s unfair to keep residents in limbo.
“But I would say it’s more unfair to the firefighters that were potentially going to get laid off on May 1, now knowing ‘hey, I’m still going to come to work, I took an oath to serve the community, I’m potentially going to end up contracting this virus, maybe taking it home to my family, just to find out not only am I going to get laid off in six months, but then my healthcare benefits are going to stop as well’,” Latini said.
Latini is hoping Rural Metro Fire drops the threat of closure altogether.