By Tony Hodgkinson of the Free Press

The London fire department could be in “dire straits” financially before the year is out, Assistant Deputy Chief Bruce Tapp warned Tuesday after a fire station in east London was put out of service for three hours.

Tapp said he felt the department could remain within its budget of nearly $15 million by redeploying personnel to understaffed stations, but “it’s going to be very difficult, to say the least.”

Firehall No. 10 on Trafalgar Street, near Highway 100, was out of commission until 11 a.m. when it was “activated by another unit” after firefighters were transferred from No. 6 firehall on Wonderland Rd. at Oxford Street.

Tapp said a rash of illnesses has been reported at No. 10 recently.  Overall, seven people from across the department reported sick on Thursday, including four from No. 10.  Compounding the problem was the fact that some employees are on vacation.

He added that the temporary closure was the first of its kind and he felt the situation at No. 10 would be “short-term.”

Tapp said there have been more incidents of sickness and compensatory injuries than expected and overtime for off-duty replacements has strained the budget.

In an attempt to ease the pressure, fire department administrators had decided to make do by shifting around on-duty personnel rather than bringing in other firefighters on overtime.

“We are experiencing difficult times and we still have the rest of the year to consider,” he said, adding “We have come to a day of decision:  we have to try to stretch our dollars to the end of the year.”

But Tapp cautioned “we are experiencing some difficulties (and) we may be in dire straits before the end of the year.”

He stressed there had been no consideration of closing any fire stations and denied reports of plans to close firehalls on a rotating basis.  “We are not taking any calculated risks against the safety of the citizens.”

He admitted that moving firefighters and equipment around to compensate for a shortage of staff could leave stations shy of their full complements.  However, he said that frequently happens in any event when fire equipment is taken out for training practices or a firehall is responding to an emergency.  In those situations, a backup plan is put into effect to cover the depleted station with men and equipment from another station.

Tapp said he hopes an extension of this practice – “but only where there are two or more vehicles in a station” – would solve the problem of having to call in off-duty personnel, although it would result in temporary closures.