It started as a hypothetical question: If Salt Lake City had to close one of its fire stations, which one could the city do without?

"I never thought it would become a reality," acting fire chief Dennis McKone told the Salt Lake City Council on Tuesday.

Mayor Ralph Becker is proposing to eliminate fire operations at station No. 5 at 1023 E. 900 South and devote it exclusively to emergency medical responses. The move would save the city about $416,000 in fiscal 2008-09 to help offset the rising costs of fuel and health care.

"We support the mayor," McKone said, "and we understand that the city is in some economic hard times. As the chief, I will honor whatever (the City Council) and the mayor does, but I'm not totally sold that we need to close the station."

Neither, it seems, is the City Council.

Councilman Eric Jergensen requested that McKone and fire department administrators put together some options for cutting costs that don't involve pulling firefighters and equipment from the station.

The City Council has the final say on the city's budget, which by state law must be adopted by June 22.

"Reductions are going to be painful wherever we make them," said City Council chairwoman Jill Remington Love. "This is going to be a long process."

Becker has cited calls to the fire station in 2007 as justification for the change. On average, 80 percent of the calls responded to were medical emergencies.

Fire officials say that figure is a little high, suggesting that about 32 percent of calls to the station are fire related. In addition, the station responds to all fire alarms throughout the southeastern part of the city to provide support.

The station is the fifth busiest of the city's 14 stations, said John Vuyk, financial officer for the fire department.

McKone said pulling fire operations from the station would hurt response times, which currently average four minutes, 18 seconds. However, it's expected that response times would remain within the five-minute national standard.

Ceasing fire operations at the station would eliminate positions for three captains and three firefighters. It is expected that those employees would fill vacancies within the fire department.

The proposed change would allow the station to be utilized as the city's Community Emergency Response Team headquarters. Becker's budget recommends a $110,000 increase for the CERT program to educate people about disaster preparedness and train them in basic disaster-response skills.

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