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Peoria Fire Department temporarily shuts down rescue machine in response to staffing, budget woes

PEORIA, Ill. - One less fire rescue unit is on the streets in Peoria Tuesday. The temporary closure is in response to the city's ongoing budget woes.

The shut down of Peoria Rescue 1 is not sitting well with those who man the machine, which won't respond to any calls until Wednesday morning.

"It will basically be, as we've discussed, 'moth balled', it will just be left doors open, nobody will be able to use it to respond to emergencies." President of Peoria Firefighters Union Local 50, Ryan Brady, explains.

Peoria Fire Rescue 1 sat quiet Tuesday, starting at 7AM, it was 'browned out', meaning temporarily shut down, because the department doesn't have the 3 staff members required to operate it.

"Not only are we losing the vehicle, but we are losing the expertise of the people that sit on that vehicle and that means sometimes life or death." Brady says.

It's one of the city's two rescue units, which responds to special search and rescue, high altitude, and dive team missions.

"In order to staff that machine, the fire department would have to hire back on overtime and they just don't have the funds to hire back on overtime anymore." City Manager, Patrick Urich, explains.

As the city works to close its more than $8 million budget deficit, the fire department is projected to spend $1.5 million more than it's $20.5 million budget this year, which doesn't leave room to pay any more overtime necessary to staff Rescue 1.

"They have to live within their means and if that means they have to take steps by closing a machine down in order to live within their budget authority, that's what they have to do." Urich says.

The department is currently down 9 positions and working to train the June Fire Academy class to fill those vacancies and, eventually, staff Rescue 1.

"The sooner we can get firefighters hired, the faster they should be able to curtail their overtime instead of paying somebody time-and-a-half to fill that position, we'll be paying them just their straight salary." Urich says.

The city hopes the new hires will help alleviate the staffing issue altogether.

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