A Lincoln city councilman told the city's top public safety officials Monday that he supports building more fire stations, but he wants to tailor them to a city where most of the calls are for medical emergencies, not fires.

"I'd like to see some tweaking," Jon Camp told Public Safety Director Tom Casady and Fire Chief John Huff after they presented plans to add fire stations to serve a city that's grown by more than 50,000 people in the past 16 years.

Camp said he liked the three plans Casady and Huff laid out, each a mix of closing two or three of the city's 14 fire stations and replacing them with three or four new ones in more strategic locations.

Seventy-six percent of the department's calls are for medical emergencies, not fires, and most fires between 2006 and 2010 were downtown, according to a department study released in January.

So why not marshal fire protection there and use medic-only stations in areas where medical emergencies dominate, Camp asked.

Fires are rarer in newer, residential neighborhoods, Casady said, but they still flare up, and when they do, they cause more damage than they used to. Firefighters aren't there because they put out a lot of fires; they're there for the rare occurrence when they're needed, he said.

"I don't think that argument holds water," Camp said in an exchange that got testy.

Huff told the Journal Star he's open to deploying a medic-only station if it's backed up by firefighters. Otherwise, what can medics do to put out a fire?

"They really have no capacity to do anything (against a fire)," Huff said. "It's not a solution I'd be comfortable with everywhere."

Regardless, the department needs newer, bigger stations that can accommodate both full-scale fire companies and smaller medic-only teams, he said after the meeting.

"We don't have any place to put the stuff we got," he said. "These buildings are just grossly inadequate."

Camp didn't disagree.

But even if the City Council chooses the most robust, most expensive plan presented Monday -- one that would cost $8 million to build four new fire stations -- firefighters still would fail to reach more than 3,000 emergency calls within four minutes, a crucial benchmark to saving lives and property.

Camp told Casady and Huff he wanted to explore medic-only stations as a way of tackling those calls.

"I'm on your side of the fence here."

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Reach Jonathan Edwards at 402-473-7395 or jedwards@journalstar.com.


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