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Fire study gets green light

In a piece of non-election news that is still relevant to Tuesday's primary, the state authority that oversees Philadelphia's finances approved a comprehensive study of the city's firefighting needs.

The study, commissioned by the Pennsylvania Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority (PICA), is meant to provide data-driven answers to questions that have poisoned relations between the Nutter administration and the Philadelphia Fire Fighters union, who have argued bitterly over the last two and a half years about the wisdom of cutting fire services during the recession.

The issue has become one of the rallying cries of candidates in the primary. Nutter's opponent, T. Milton Street, said he would end the temporary deactivation of fire companies that Nutter ordered last summer, the closings coming on an alternating basis and referred to as "rolling brownouts." Street, who got out of prison last year on federal tax charges, was even endorsed by Local 22 of the International Firefighters Association.

The union has blamed injuries and even deaths on the brownouts in fires where the nearest fire company was not working. Union officials have also questioned what type of analysis went into the decision to deactivate seven fire companies in 2009, and the continuing brownout of four companies daily that began last summer.

Berkshire Advisors, Inc., with a bid of $219,000 was the winner of five proposals that came in from $199,000 to $492,000, Uri Monson, PICA's executive director said at the PICA board's regular monthly meeting Tuesday. Monson said Berkshire was the most qualified, had positive experience in other cities, and was agreeable to both the local and national fire fighter unions. Professional service contracts such as the won authorized Tuesday are not required to go to the lowest bidder.

Union support is critical, otherwise the reports findings will quickly get lost in politics. The study will include a response-time analysis for every fire station in the city, Monson said.

The PICA board's 4-0 vote Tuesday authorizes the signing of a contract, though no contract has been signed yet.

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