Bristol, Va. firefighters consider revised budget proposal, 'big win'


A much-anticipated public hearing in Bristol, Virginia was quieter than expected, after a plan to make major cuts to the fire department was thrown out.

News 5 was the first to confirm that announcement with the mayor and vice mayor, just hours before the public hearing was set to begin.

City leaders said a presentation made by the firefighters' union, last week made the difference.

City leaders do an about-face, changing a plan to make major cuts to the fire department.

"Right now, we're feeling like this is a huge step in the betterment of the citizens and the city itself," firefighter Todd Gentry.

At a public hearing, a majority of city councilmen announced they would no longer support cutting 10 firefighter positions and closing a fire station. The measure was estimated to save the city $650,000.

"The money would have been set aside into the reserve which is a noble goal," Mayor Bill Hartley said.

We talked to Councilman Kevin Mumpower who first questioned the size of the fire department. He said a presentation made by the firefighters' union last week, changed his mind.

"The more hard questions are asked, the more the conversation is healthy," Mumpower said.

The union presented data that suggests the city already has gaps in the service area.

"You can't cut staffing and make that problem worse," Mumpower said.

The fire department also went door-to-door, trying to share their research with the community. Mayor Hartley said those efforts didn't go unnoticed.

"I got a lot of calls and emails. I'm sure the others did too," Hartley said. "Anytime you hear from the people, if you go against the preponderance of the public sentiment, you do that at your own peril."

Now Gentry says, it's their turn to work with the city to prevent this issue from coming up again.

"Anything the fire department can do to back our city council, that's what we're going to do," Gentry said. "Because without them, we can't have a fire department."

It's important to note, this budget is not final. Councilman Kevin Wingard still has questions about the size of the fire department. He's asked for a special-called meeting next week.

The first reading of the budget will be on June 13th.

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