EAST ST. LOUIS — City firefighters are sounding a 911 alarm of their own -- a 9 minute 11 second video on YouTube about cutting their ranks from 53 firefighters to 31.
Their video states that the city once had more than 150 firefighters protecting it. Since the video was posted Monday, it has been played more than 53,000 times.
The 22 firefighters will be lost because a $3.3 million, three-year federal grant that brought them back after layoffs runs out at the end of March, said Brandon Drake, budget director for the city's Financial Advisory Authority. The state-appointed group oversees the city's spending.
"We were going to sit down and discuss a plan to mitigate the layoffs," Drake said. "I have been asking them for a firm number of the possible layoffs the department is anticipating. I have not received that information from the city yet."
Although the grant expires this month, the city has enough to keep the firefighters on the payroll through May.
"The city needs to make public safety a priority. This should start with the city officials taking the time to sit down with all parties, including the FAA, to discuss ways to save as many firefighters as possible," Drake said.
Mayor Alvin L. Parks Jr. said the city has not applied for an extension of the grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency because there has yet to be an announcement that it will continue or what the new criteria will be for obtaining the grant.
"We don't want to make our fire department any leaner. We want to continue to keep a full-fledged department. We are exhausting all possibilities," Parks said.
It will take $900,000 a year to keep the 22 firefighters on staff. The total budget for firefighters in 2013 is $2.8 million.
"We put the video out to the community so that they would understand the possibilities that could be taking place in the near future," said Brandon Walls, president of East St. Louis Local 23 of the International Association of Fire Fighters.
The video makes the case that the East St. Louis Fire Department is the busiest in the region, fights some extremely dangerous fires and already does so with smaller crews than are called for by standards set by the National Fire Protection Association. It states that the city struggles to get six firefighters to a structure fire.
The association calls for four firefighters per truck, or the "two in, two out" rule. For safety, they recommend two firefighters remain outside with the truck and two are available to go inside and search the structure or fight the fire from inside.
Walls said the East St. Louis sends two trucks to a house fire, so there should be eight firefighters to meet the association's standard.
The video also discusses the four firehouses closed by the city and shows interior shots of Firehouse No. 1, which is behind City Hall. The old firehouse has moss growing on the floor from a leaking roof and old equipment is shown dusty, rusting and abandoned.
Contact reporter Carolyn P. Smith at 618-239-2503.