Spurring a petition, crowds of firefighters packing City Hall, a proposal to slap ads on trucks, endless news stories, and testy responses from the mayor's office, the decision to close three city fire companies this summer would rank as the scandal of the year all by itself. Add in Chief James Clack's six-year contract with an 18 percent raise that followed, and it's red-hot. Of course, no scandal worth the name goes accurately reported in the press; months into the controversy, most citizens believed that the physical fire stations were being shuttered in hard-pressed east- and west-side locales. This was not true: Only the companies those buildings housed were being shut down. And better, the firefighters peopling those companies were not being laid off either. How this resulted in budget savings is one of the abiding mysteries of the city's never-audited budget. But the people were stirred, and the cuts, such as they were, happened anyway. After a short reprieve because of, um, a storm-related emergency. The last of the three is slated to close Oct. 1.