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"Hot" topic: the future of the South Tucson Fire Department

Public safety leaders weigh in on the direction council should take moving forward
South Tucson
Posted at 7:10 PM, Mar 06, 2024
and last updated 2024-03-07 15:02:05-05

SOUTH TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — The future of the fire department was still uncertain going into Tuesday night’s city council meeting. Discussion of the fire department was not on the agenda, but South Tucson firefighters still filled the seats during the meeting.

Firefighters were there to address some comments made during that meeting, and a previous meeting during the call to the audience.

RELATED STORY: Heated discussion between South Tucson council members leaves future of South Tucson Fire Department unknown

“I just ask that you support us, not just speaking respectfully about us…but offering us more support,” said one of the reservists with the South Tucson Fire Department.

His comments were directed at South Tucson Vice Mayor Herman Lopez, who had said the city needs “real firemen…” in a previous meeting. Firefighters in the audience responded, “We are real firemen, sir. We have the same certs [certifications] as the City of Tucson.”

Comments made Tuesday night were clarified Thursday morning after audio was released from the council meeting. Before the call to the audience, Vice Mayor Herman Lopez addressed firefighters in the audience.

"First of all, I want to thank all these firemen showing up here and for attending tonight's meeting. I just wish you would show up to work when you're supposed to..." said Lopez.

He followed that statement by addressing his wording from the council meeting on February 20.

"I want to apologize for the statements I made at the last meeting were taking by the wrong context by what I said. I just want to send my apology and I want to thank you for serving our community and the dedication to the community," said Lopez.

Then when the call to the audience started, the reservist that spoke thanked him for his apology, but added, "it was kind of disheartening to hear you give us a compliment and disgrace us at the same time, in front of the whole crowd here."

The call to the audience also brought support from the Tucson Firefighter Association.

“I come before you today to stand in solidarity with the firefighters of South Tucson and to express our support in rebuilding the South Tucson Fire Department by hiring the already trained and qualified firefighters who serve the community within South Tucson's reserve ranks,” he said.

This meeting was the first following the Spanish Trail Motel fire that started on February 23. South Tucson had three firefighters staffed to respond and the City of Tucson helped with over 50 personnel and 20 fire vehicles.

RELATED STORY: Fire rips through Spanish Trail Motel in South Tucson

Public Safety Director Danny Denogean reported those numbers to the council Tuesday night and shared the message he had for the council.

“The amount of personnel that they brought was a tremendous amount and that’s just something the City of South Tucson can’t do,” said Denogean.

As to how the South Tucson Fire Department could stand on its own, he doesn't see that in the future.

“I think with what our situation is, it’s a lack of finances, a lack of staffing, lack of resources, and lack of equipment… that's the direction that we need to move,” he said.

The direction he referred to was to continue negotiations to bring in the Tucson Fire Department.

Fire Captain Andy Luna, the only full-time firefighter, said they’re not the only department that needs assistance.

“These types of fires like the Spanish Trail in large buildings, we do need help, as do many other fire departments in the city, county and the state.”

He said there are still other options out there.

“I do appreciate the council’s effort to weigh out all of the options that we have. They just need more information to do what’s best for the City of South Tucson,” said Luna.

Part of what it comes down to is how many firefighters South Tucson can afford to keep staffed and being able to afford to pay into the pension. South Tucson is still relying on getting funding from Pima County to afford to pay the City of Tucson to bring in its fire department, but that’s been put on hold for now.

Reyna Preciado is a reporter for KGUN 9, she joined the KGUN 9 team in July of 2022 after graduating Arizona State University. Share your story ideas with Reyna by emailing or by connecting on Instagram, or Twitter.