Election season rhetoric got a little hotter this week in the race for the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Braddock District seat when the Democratic challenger’s campaign accused Supervisor John C. Cook (R) of gambling with the safety of county firefighters.

Janet S. Oleszek, a former school board member, issued a blistering statement quoting the head of the firefighters’ union as saying that Cook was taking an “irresponsible and unacceptable stand” by questioning the need for a fourth firefighter on county ladder trucks.

“We will not stand for politicians that try to save a buck by putting our citizens or our personnel in jeopardy,” said Capt. John R. Niemiec, who leads the Fairfax County Professional Firefighters and Paramedics Local 2068 of the International Association of Fire Fighters.

The statement was made Tuesday in an announcement touting the firefighter union’s endorsement of Oleszek. Niemiec, in a brief telephone interview Wednesday, said he stood by his criticism of Cook.

Oleszek said Cook was ignoring a issue raised by firefighters since 2001 and equated Cook’s votes against two county budgets as votes against public safety.

In response, Cook’s campaign dusted off a 2006 memorandum and other documents to show that in even in fat times under former Board of Supervisors chairman Gerald E. Connolly (D), the county chose not to hire 52 additional firefighters for its ladder trucks. The memo put the estimated cost at $5.2 million.

“It’s sad that Ms. Oleszek is so desperate and so willing to throw her Democratic colleagues and every member of the Board of Supervisors for the last 10 years under the proverbial bus for a cheap press release and blog entry,” Cook said in a written statement. He has also defended his votes against two budgets as fiscally conservative stands on behalf of taxpayers.

The memo cited by the Cook campaign also noted that even if the county received a five-year federal grant to defray the cost of the additional staffing, the grant would cover only 21 percent of the total cost. The county, however, would be liable for $21 million over five years, excluding overtime costs. The memo also noted that the county had applied unsuccessfully for such a grant in 2005.

Cook, who won the Braddock seat in March 2009 after Sharon S. Bulova (D) became the Board’s chairman, voted for the fiscal 2010 budget, which was passed unanimously. But Cook joined two Republican colleagues on the 10-member board in casting votes against the fiscal 2011 and fiscal 2012 budgets.

Cook said he opposed the fiscal 2011 because it reinstated a $33 vehicle registration fee, boosted the real estate tax rate from $1.04 to $1.09, and increased the stormwater fee from $0.01 to $0.015 -- a combination of levies that, Cook said, cost the average taxpayer about $95 a year.

Earlier this year, Cook voted against the fiscal 2012 budget, which began July 1, because of the effective tax increase on real estate that would increase the average taxpayer’s bill by about $21.

The spat over firefighters occurred before the candidates met Wednesday at North Springfield Elementary School for the third of 10 scheduled debates.