SAN JOSE (CBS SF) – San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed says reducing the number of firefighters on each response truck could the fire department more flexibility and better coverage of the city.

Right now, San Jose Fire shows up with four people on each engine, and it doesn’t matter whether it’s a huge blaze or a minor medical call. But with a tight budget, Reed said it’s time to rethink four-man teams.

“Another option is to follow the rest of the fire departments in the county who deploy three firefighters on an engine,” said Reed during his State of the City Address.

The mayor is talking about neighboring agencies, like Santa Clara County Fire, which assigns just three people per engine.

In theory, you could pull a firefighter from each of the city’s 30 stations and regroup them; that would allow the department to re-deploy an additional 10 engines staffed with new three-person teams.

“That staffing change alone will allow us to open all of our fire stations, eliminate our brownouts, and improve response times in medical emergencies,” said Reed.

The San Jose firefighters union is fighting back with a media campaign. They blame the slow response times on the layoffs and station closures dating back to 2010.

San Jose also has one of the lowest number of firefighters per capita and fire stations are, on average, six miles apart.

The union says that, if modeled after smaller cities, the three man rig plan would require an additional 31 station in San Jose. They say a reduction would compromise firefighter safety and would not help them meet response times.

The fate of the department could hinge on the next mayoral election.

County Supervisor and frontrunner Dave Cortese is the only candidate who is against the rig reduction plan.

“We shouldn’t be playing that kind of Russian Roulette with people’s safety,” said Cortese.

The other candidates say that, since 94 percent of calls are medical, the department is over deploying.

“We can be much more efficient and more effective if we are willing. And the question is, whether or not, we have the will,” said city councilmember and mayoral candidate Sam Liccardo.

“I want to be able to open all the fire stations to provide adequate services. And that means if we have to go from four firefighters to three firefighters, that is the right way to do it,” said Vice Mayor and mayoral candidate Madison Nguyen.

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