The Philadelphia city controller and the Nutter administration tangled over Fire Department response times Wednesday.
City Controller Alan Butkovitz contended that the Fire Department has been slower in responding to emergencies under Mayor Nutter.
Fire Commissioner Derrick Sawyer countered by contending that Butkovitz misapplied national standards and that the city's response times for fires were better than national averages.
Butkovitz was unmoved, calling it "preposterous" that Sawyer was questioning his research. The controller, who has often butted heads with Nutter, said he had seen "a whole host of cases" where it took the department longer than the national standard to respond to fires.
And Butkovitz said he sees no reason "other than stubbornness" for Nutter to stick with the policies that caused that.
They don't save money and put lives at risk, according to Butkovitz, who issued a report Wednesday saying the city slipped in meeting the national standard of five minutes and 20 seconds for a fire engine to respond to an emergency.
The city hit that mark 81 percent of the time in 2008 but only 75 percent as of 2014, he said.
Butkovitz blames the station "brownouts" Nutter instituted in 2010 to save money, along with staff rotations put in place in 2013 to train firefighters in more than one job.
In response, Sawyer contended that the controller misapplied the National Fire Protection Association's standard in measuring response times.
That standard of five minutes and 20 seconds is for structure fires, not the broader category of emergencies, Sawyer said.
So far this year, Sawyer said, the department met the standard for structure fires 95 percent of the time.
Butkovitz's report is a preliminary look at a full audit of the Fire Department, inspired by the 2014 death of firefighter Joyce Craig in a West Oak Lane blaze. The full audit will be released next month, he said, and will examine reports that it took 18 minutes for Craig to be pulled from the blaze after her mayday alarm was triggered.
Butkovitz called the Nutter administration policies a "colossal failure" in terms of budget because spikes in overtime costs cut killed any savings.
"They didn't save any money," he said. "And it put lives at risk. There's no justification for persisting with it other than stubbornness."
Wednesday's report looked only at the response times for city fire engines, not at ladder trucks or ambulances.
Butkovitz sent his report to Nutter and to Mayor-elect Jim Kenney, who takes office in less than three weeks.
Kenney, the son of a retired firefighter, said staff rotations will come to an end when he is mayor. He called the policy an "attempt to punish" the firefighters' union.
"That's one of the dumbest things I've ever seen done in a fire department," he said. "It has basically made firefighters less safe, the public less safe, and has damaged morale beyond anything I've ever experienced."
Kenney also said brownouts for savings will only be used when specific companies are in training.
"We should not be saving money on public safety," he said.