The city firefighter's union lost a bid to prevent the Nutter administration from closing seven fire companies targeted as part of Mayor Nutter's response to the current budget crisis.

Common Pleas Judge Gary DiVito yesterday ruled that Nutter could unilaterally make the cuts - which involve no layoffs - and that Local 22 of the International Association of Firefighters had failed to show that the cuts posed a threat to public safety.

The firefighters requested an injunction earlier this month, arguing that Nutter was required to bargain with the union when it came to issues of firefighter safety.

But DiVito pointed out that the Commonwealth Court ruled in 2007 against the union, vacating language in the contract requiring the city to negotiate staffing reductions with the union and support them with an independent impact study. That case is under appeal before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. The union also has asked the Supreme Court for an injunction while that case is being considered.

DiVito said the union's expert witness had not shown that eliminating five engine companies and two ladder companies would endanger firefighters or the public.

It was a much-needed victory for Nutter in his effort to close a five-year, $1 billion budget gap that he has warned is likely to grow. Nutter estimates that the fire closures would save $10.4 million annually.

"We have a huge budget problem, and this is but a single part of the plan to try to address it," City Solicitor Shelley Smith said yesterday. "It is a relief that we can now move forward on this part of the plan that we have already begun to implement, and deal with the decisions we have to make going forward."

Efforts to reach union officials were unsuccessful.

The city would not lay off any firefighters or close any fire stations. Rather, firefighters staffing the seven companies will be reassigned to other duties. Under the administration's proposed restructuring, the Fire Department would shrink from 61 engine companies and 29 ladder companies to 56 engines and 27 ladders. (Engine companies pour water on fires; ladder companies provide equipment for rescues.)

The grievance filed earlier this month argues that the cuts would violate the city's contract with the union by "jeopardizing the safety and health of firefighters in a manner that is likely to cause death or serious physical harm."

While arbitrators have ruled that running the department and establishing staffing levels are legitimate management prerogatives, the contract prohibits cuts that may imperil firefighter health and safety.