The potential consequences of rolling back lifesaving services are so frightening that such cuts will always create alarm about public safety. It’s too bad that Portland firefighters have chosen to ring that alarm to protest the reallocation of municipal resources by exaggerating the threat to the people they serve.

Reductions in ambulance service at Munjoy Station prompted firefighters to place a sign out front falsely claiming that the station had been closed. That move, along with ominous messages via neighborhood fliers and social media, represents outsize resistance to a relatively modest city cost-cutting measure.

The city’s recent decision to periodically take the Munjoy Hill ambulance out of service overnight reflects a couple of demonstrable facts. This ambulance gets the second fewest calls of the five ambulances in the city. And the bulk of these calls occur during the day.

Nonetheless, a placard reading “Closed. Per city govt.” went up Nov. 25 and Nov. 26, the first time that the measure was put into effect. Firefighters have also posted fliers around Munjoy Hill, asking residents to contact the city. And Dec. 2, they tweeted: “It’s happening again. @CityPortland ambulance out of service tonight. #portlandme playing with public safety.”

That’s using fear, not logic, to try to sway the public, when the reality is far different. Firefighters on Munjoy Hill are also equipped with medical gear and staffed with a paramedic – mitigating any impact that the so-called brownout might have on the availability of emergency medical services.

What’s more, there’s a legitimate need to rein in fire department overtime spending. Until recently, the Munjoy Hill ambulance has been staffed largely by using overtime, with the result that only five months into the fiscal year, the department has already spent 83 percent of its $1.1 million overtime budget.

The high costs have been attributed to a citywide hiring freeze instituted last year. But with 12 new recruits just coming on board, the city expects to be able to keep the Munjoy Hill ambulance in regular service without further depleting the funds set aside for overtime, says Portland’s acting fire chief.

No municipal agency should realistically expect to able to dodge budget writers’ belt-tightening measures – especially the Portland Fire Department, which has the largest budget of any city department. Instead of trying to derail reform, firefighters would be better off seeking a place at the table for the discussion. And so would the public as a whole.

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