Tucson Fire Department facing experience decrease

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TUCSON, Ariz. -- A combined 124 years of experience is leaving the Tucson Fire Department.

In the past week, four firefighters have retired and three more will say their goodbyes in the next couple weeks.

Another Tucson firefighter hung up his hat wednesday.  Captain Raymond Sayre retired from the department after more than 35 years.

"I have many, many memorable experiences," said Capt. Sayre.

Three other Tucson firefighters retired this week. All of them with decades of experience.

"The bottom line is we have a tremendous experience drain ocurring within the City of Tucson in the fire service and within law enforcement as well," said Sayre.

It's a concern the department has been facing for the past few months, after the city cut its budget by nearly 7%.

Sayre says some firefighters decided to take advantage of incentive programs and retire now, preventing others from being laid off.

"I think as firefighters we look at the whole picture, 'What's the state of the economy?  What's the budget picture facing the City of Tucson right now,'" said Sayre.

But as more and more say goodbye, TFD must battle a shrinking staff. The department's under a hiring freeze so firefighters can't be replaced.

Right now the its down about 30 people.

"We're real concerned in the community, we're going to start seeing response times going up," said TFD retiree John Springer.  "Maybe we won't get there in time for a heart attack or a fire."

Retirees say training will be key in doing more with less, making up for the loss in firefighters and experience.

"What we try to do in the fire service is we try to reassimilate.  We do lots of classes, lots of scenarios.   We do lots of situation analysis to impart that knowledge and skills over to the next generation," said Sayre.

Firefighters who hope they won't have to hang up their hats any time soon.