Bristol, Va. councilman questions size, cost of fire department


Bristol, Virginia leaders are looking for a way to fix more than a $500,000 deficit in next year's budget.

One city councilman believes the answer could be in the fire department. Right now, there are 45 firefighters in Bristol, Virginia. Councilman Kevin Mumpower believes that's too many. And he said that extra manpower is costing the city and taxpayers nearly a million dollars each year.

But a local business owner is urging city leaders to find other ways to close the gap.

Joe Deel runs the Burger Bar in Downtown Bristol. Last month, he held a fundraiser for the fire department to help them buy new equipment.

"Firefighters to me are like insurance, you really don't know you need them until you have an issue or problem," Deel said.

But councilman Mumpower wants to know if the city is paying too much for that safety net. He's done some research. And in cities of similar size, he said the average ratio of firefighters to civilians is 1:500.

In Bristol, that ratio is much smaller at 1:375.

"What's the right number?" Mumpower asked. "Show us the data and show us the numbers. You shouldn't spend money where you don't have to. This is not about whether the fire department is good or not. We know they're good. But you still have to have the right number of people. You can only afford so much."

Vice Mayor Archie Hubbard said city leaders are going through each department's budget line-by-line. And he emphasized nothing is set in stone, at this point.

"We're not going to do something that's going to leave everything totally exposed," Hubbard said. "That would be ridiculous. That wouldn't be serving our function. But we also have a function to pay as little as possible to get the job done."

But as the owner of a restaurant, Deel said you can't put a price on safety.

"If it's a little more on my taxes to secure our fire department, I myself don't mind to pay a little more," Deel said.

News 5 also reached out to the Bristol Professional Fire Fighters Association. Their president sent a statement, claiming budget cuts would mean possibly closing one of the city's three fire stations, along with cutting jobs.

"This proposal is irresponsibly, dangerous and completely ignores a key function of government - to keep those it serves safe," president Mike Wise said in the statement.

According to the National Fire Protection Association's codes and standards (NFPA 1710), 15 firefighters are need to cover a single-family home on fire.

The city's budget workshops continue, Tuesday night at 5 p,m.

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