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UPDATED: Fire department maintains staffing amid cutbacks

Posted: June 9, 2009 9:49 p.m.
Updated: June 10, 2009 11:25 a.m.

In this Oct. 2007 photo, two local firefighters watch as a super scooper makes a drop. The Los Angeles County Fire Department may need to borrow $44 million to keep firefighters on duty for the upcoming brushfire season.

The Los Angeles County Fire Department has enacted a hiring freeze for nonessential personnel and slowed hiring of firefighters amid a widespread budget crisis, but expects to be able to maintain its current staffing levels, a spokesman said.

"We have not done any frequent hirings or recent hirings, and we haven't done any promotions," said Fire spokesman Capt. Mike Brown.

Brown added the department does not expect any difficulties in providing its usual level of fire protection.

Officials are hammering out the details of a larger plan of action for the department, which may be available later this month.
Cal Fire, the state's fire department, is also looking at potential belt-tightening.

The governor's proposed budget holds back $17 million that would have gone toward replacing some fire trucks and other vehicles for the department, said Cal Fire spokesman Daniel Berlant.

The department responds to major emergencies and fires across the state and is responsible for fighting blazes on state property. However, in many areas, it pays local fire departments to provide the initial response.

Cal Fire has a $15.1 million annual contract with the Los Angeles County Fire Department that, so far, doesn't seem like it will be affected by budget cuts, Berlant said.

"That's as of today," he said. "Things change. There's no budget actually signed."

Los Angeles County firefighters have put out several fires in and around the Santa Clarita Valley over the past month. Most were small and caused no damage nor injuries.

The Santa Clarita Valley's fire season typically reaches its peak in the fall.

In past years, the Santa Clarita Valley has seen major wildfires that blackened thousands of acres. Last year, fires burned in the northern San Fernando Valley and in the Newhall Pass. In 2007, blazes charred nearly 14,000 acres in Canyon Country and Agua Dulce.


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