Published: May 12, 2011 10:39 PM EDT
Updated: May 10, 2011 8:22 PM EDT

CAPE CORAL, Fla. - UPDATE:  The Cape Coral Fire Department will suspend the practice of unit brownouts effective immediately. The department previously had reduced the number of unit brownouts in March from three per duty day to one. Effective Thursday, no units will be placed on brownout status until further notice.

The practice of unit brownouts began two years ago as a means to reduce the significant overtime costs for staffing all available units. Since its inception, the Fire Department has been actively monitoring peak time incidents and simultaneous calls for service to track any trends associated with the brownout policy. The Department has tracked call volume and response times throughout the year. Continuing increases in the number of calls for service and the simultaneous nature of some of the calls necessitated revisiting the brownout policy. As recently as March 8, the decision was made to reduce the number of units on brownout status from three each day to one per day. Thursday's decision will keep all units in service.

“Even with discontinuing the unit brown-out practice, we still may experience situations where we are unable to respond to emergency calls in a timely manner,” Fire Chief Bill Van Helden said. “Further reductions in response times will be dependent on our long-term strategy to build additional fire stations and place staff in key locations throughout the city.”


Things are heating up between the Cape Coral Fire Department and city leaders.

The issue is over what's called "brown outs".

This is when the city takes a fire truck and crew out of service for a day to save money.

The Cape Coral Fire Fighters Union says these brownouts are affecting man power, which they believe results in slower response times.

"The fact of the matter is we're having too long response times to calls," said Mark Muerth, President of Cape Coral Fire Fighters Union.

Muerth believes a man died last week because it took too long for a back-up crew from another fire department to get to the scene.

"The next closest unit came from Pelican and it took them nine minutes to get there," he said.

But city leaders say that's not true!

"I found those comments to be disingenious to the public. I can assure the public that the brown outs are not causing the loss of life that was insinuated last night," said Council Member Chris Chulakes-Leetz.

Connie Barron, the spokeswoman for the city says response times are in check and no lives are in danger.

She adds there are always primary teams and staffing at every fire department in the city.

"The brown outs had nothing to do with the incident last week," Barron told WINK News regarding the situation where the fire fighters claims a man died because of response times.

City leaders believes this is a scare tact by the fire fighters union because they are currently in contract negotiations.

Muerth denies this.

"It has nothing to do with negotiations and wages. We're saying put people on the truck so they can respond to the calls. Period," he said.

For the time being the city says "brown outs" will continue because they do save thousands of dollars in overtime.

Both sides will meet next week to continue their contract negotiations.