Salt Lake City fire officials hope to lay the groundwork for a new era in "pro-active" firefighting by promoting fire awareness and hiring an emergency management coordinator, the department said in a Wednesday policy hearing.

City Fire Chief Dennis Sargent brought a draft budget proposal to Mayor Palmer DePaulis Wednesday, including a list of 11 proposed changes to the department's current $17.8 million operating budget.Topping the list is a request for a community awareness coordinator to implement a community education program that could reduce fire fatalities by 50 percent and curb unnecessary emergency calls by the same figure, Sargent said.

"For the money, this could be the most beneficial to the community," the chief said of the proposal, costing $50,000.

Sargent also proposed hiring an emergency management coordinator, at a cost of $52,000, to organize city fire services in the event of a major catastrophe, such as an earthquake or floods, which ravaged the city in 1983.

The coordinator, for example, would "establish contingencies for loss of water supplies and utilities," Sargent said.

DePaulis spoke favorably of Sargent's community awareness program. "I think this is one we need to give emphasis to," he said, urging the chief to impress the City Council, which must sign off on the mayor's budget, with how the program could serve the community.

"The Council should see what's driving the substantive issues of how our departments are responding to the community," DePaulis said.

Further, last year's earthquake that shook the San Francisco area has heightened awareness of emergency needs in Salt Lake City, a region that could suffer from its own powerful earthquake.

"The community is very much aware of the seismic situation and this might be an ideal educational opportunity," DePaulis said.

Other fire department requests include opening Fire Station No. 9 in west Salt Lake City, buying a $200,000 mobile command post and dividing the city into two, east and west fire battalions.

City finance officials stressed the department's request is still very much in draft form and could be altered significantly before a final budget is adopted by the City Council this spring.