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Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette
Fort Wayne firefighters direct water to help contain Monday’s multi-building fire east of downtown.

The price of safety

The massive fire that destroyed a complex of industrial buildings just east of downtown on Monday serves as a timely reminder for Fort Wayne residents. A well-prepared and adequately financed fire department is critical to public safety.

Some Fort Wayne residents will need to make budget adjustments for the additional tax that takes effect on Oct. 1. But $1.2 million of the revenue resulting from the tax increase will pay for a fire academy class and 15 additional firefighters, as well as $1.6 million for additional police officers.

The Fort Wayne Fire Department has gone five years without offering a new academy class because of budget constraints. The department has 340 firefighters, compared with the 361 firefighters the department had in 2005 before the city annexed Aboite Township and dramatically increased the territory the department protects.

It is true that the fire department is responding to fewer fires. There were 1,101 fire runs in 2012, compared with 1,271 in 2005. But the department is responding to a larger number of calls for other emergencies. In 2005, the department made a total of 16,631 runs, but the number of runs was far more than 20,000 in 2012.

If the Fort Wayne City Council had decided against raising the local option income tax to pay for additional firefighters, department leaders would have had to consider temporarily closing or reducing the hours for some fire stations.

Such reductions in coverage could be dangerous because the time, location and severity of a fire can never be predicted.

Monday’s blaze, which was reported about 2:30 p.m., was not under control until about 8:30 p.m. And fire crews had to remain at the scene throughout the night and into the next day to monitor the smoldering ruins. On Tuesday, fire investigators began the long process of sifting through the remains from the fire in an attempt to determine its cause.

It took more than 80 firefighters to respond to the fire. Had another significant fire occurred in the city at the same time, it’s likely surrounding fire departments would have had to be called upon for assistance, leaving other communities with reduced protection.

Those additional firefighters are a good investment to ensure that when the next large fire happens, Fort Wayne citizens and property will be protected.