By Mike Dunn

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — With the deaths of two firefighters on their minds, Philadelphia City Council members today grilled the fire commissioner about the controversial policy of temporarily closing fire stations — a tactic known as “brownouts.”

No one on Council claimed that brownouts played a role in Monday’s blaze or its deadly consequences (see related story).  But they are clearly still unhappy with the tactic — which fire commissioner Lloyd Ayers said will continue.

“The budget keeps our operations at our current level, which includes the brownouts,” Ayers told the budget hearing today.  He defended the brownouts as a way of saving $3.8 million in overtime without having to permanently close stations.

But councilmembers like Curtis Jones said it may not be worth it.

“If it’s a three-million-dollar issue, we need to find three million dollars to put this to bed forever,” he said.

Nutter’s new budget does include funding for between 80 and 160 new firefighters, though Ayers says even with the increased ranks the brownouts will be needed.

Meanwhile, Commissioner Ayers said it could be weeks before the Philadelphia fire marshal is able to pronounce a cause into Monday’s warehouse blaze that claimed the lives of two firefighters (see related story).

Ayers says several stories worth of collapsed rubble needed to be cleared away from the fire site before it is safe for investigators to actually move in and begin to search for a cause.

“The debris mound is tremendous.  You have a collapse where you have roof (and) several stories that went down into one area.  They have to clear all that out, and they have to be very intricate in their process.”

Killed in the blaze were Lt. Robert Neary, who will be memorialized tomorrow evening, and firefighter Daniel Sweeney, whose funeral comes Saturday (see related story).

Ayers says members of the department are supporting each other.

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