by: Kevin McCarty Updated:
PIERCE COUNTY, Wash. - The union representing civilian firefighters on Joint Base Lewis-McChord said the possibility of furloughs for fire crews on base could put soldiers and their families at risk.
Lewis-McChord Professional Fire Fighters Local F-283 president Scott Powers said notices went out to firefighters this week. "We're looking at the exact same thing as all other federal workers," Powers said. Powers said the furloughs are scheduled to begin July 8.
JBLM is home to more than 48,000 soldiers and family members and can see that number jump to as many as 118,000 in a single day when civilian employees and visitors are included. In addition to military operations involving the Army and Air Force, the base includes offices, homes and businesses, including restaurants, grocery stores and gas stations.
Powers said the furloughs could send as many as eight firefighters home per day, which he said "equates to the closure of two fire companies." Six fire companies are on base. Staffing levels for fire companies are already operating at 10 percent below requirements, according to Powers, and the furloughs could affect firefighters and dispatchers. "So the call takers that are taking your 911 calls are going to be backed up, the firefighters and the first responders are going to be not available necessarily," Powers said.
KIRO 7 asked the JBLM public affairs office about the union's claims and was told no one was available for direct comment. But in a statement by telephone PAO Joe Piek said the numbers released by the firefighters were "pre-decisional." Piek added that base commanders don't know what the overall impact of the furloughs will be and added firefighters could be exempt for safety reasons.
Piek said base commanders are planning a public statement and possibly a news conference about upcoming furloughs of civilian contractors at JBLM as early as next week.