Garcia and Fire Engine

Mayor Robert Garcia reveals the FY 2017 budget at a press conference at the Long Beach Fire Station #8 in Belmont Shore Aug. 1, 2016. Fire service is a big topic again this budget season, with Fire Engine 17 on the table.

East Long Beach has been without Fire Engine 17 — at the cost of public safety in the area, critics say — for seven years. But that may finally change this fall.

City officials have identified the necessary funding to restore the engine “around Oct. 1,” according to a Monday, Aug. 19, memo sent to the mayor and members of the City Council.

After some false starts over the years, during which it initially appeared funding would become available — including in last year’s budget discussions — Fourth District City Councilman Daryl Supernaw said Thursday, Aug. 22, he is “very confident” that the financing will come through this time around.

“Last year, we thought it was in (the budget), and it didn’t make it,” he said, “and having gone through that, I’m very confident at this point.”

Supernaw represents the eastern Fourth District, stretching north from 10th Street to the 405 Freeway, where Fire Engine 17 is located.

Monday’s memo, by John Gross, Long Beach’s director of Financial Management, said the city has found a way to restore the engine for two years using $5.9 million of unallocated Measure A funds.

To stretch the money beyond those two years, Gross wrote, the city could use “non-conventional staffing,” which may include deploying the unit during peak call hours rather than 24/7.

Supernaw, for his part, said he was committed to ensuring the engine remains in use well beyond that two-year timeline.

“My intention will be to never have it shut down again,” he said.

Rex Pritchard, the fire union president, said he was “super thrilled” the engine may soon be back in service.

“There is definitely a lack of water, and that’s what we call it with fire engines — water — on the east side of town,” he said. “So it’s a resource that’s greatly needed.”

Officials are still waiting to learn if Long Beach will receive a FEMA grant meant to bolster fire and emergency responses, which the city applied for earlier this year. If approved, the grant would support Engine 17 for three years.

The engine was taken out of service in 2012 due to budget cuts. Fire union officials have noted that certain incidents, like a 2014 house fire across the street from the station, could have been contained much more quickly if the engine were still in service.

Pritchard said firefighters from Station 17 were on the scene of that 2014 fire “within seconds,” but it took minutes for an engine with water to arrive from elsewhere in the city, so the extent of fire damage grew significantly.

“They lost family heirlooms, important financial documents, computers,” Pritchard said, “all of that stuff was lost.”

Supernaw said Thursday that the engine’s absence has other consequences in the city, too. Other stations currently are diverting some of their own resources to fight fires near Fire Station 17. When Engine 17 is back in service, he said, fire department response throughout the city will likely take less time.

Pritchard agreed the engine’s absence has had a widespread impact. He likened the current situation to a baseball team without a center fielder.

“Now eight players need to cover that field,” he said. “That is an increase in response time. Fires double in size every minute, so time matters.”

But the engine’s restoration is not yet guaranteed. The City Council still needs to vote on whether to approve the funding, which will happen next month.

Supernaw said he’s confident his colleagues will support the decision to restore the engine.

“I’m not supposed to count the votes ahead of time,” he said, “but I haven’t heard resistance from anyone.”

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