Staffing levels in the Fire Department have dipped to very low numbers and have many of the rank and file concerned – as well as one city councilor.
Councilor Fred Capone has an item on the agenda for the meeting next Monday, Dec. 21, and he said he hopes to get some answers about the staffing levels in the Fire Department. He said he was first alerted to the issue during Budget Hearings when he looked at the numbers, and due to experience, felt they seemed low.
On Monday, he’s hoping to get more information about the situation in the Department.
“This isn’t my expertise, but from what I can see we’re at a critical level in staffing,” he said. “I think it’s a dangerous situation and I wondering how this is affecting morale. I really think it could be a very, very dangerous situation.”
Fire Chief Tony Carli wasn’t immediately available to respond to those concerns.
However, Fire Union President Craig Hardy said he shared the concerns of Councilor Capone.
Hardy said on the books there are 83 firefighters, which is about 20 too few. However, he said the numbers are further depleted by four out on injury and five out due to COVID-19.
“You are at very low and dangerous levels,” he said. “The overtime is up for sure and members are working so much. We’re filling the shifts to protect the city, but we’re at bare minimum. The City has attempted to hire a few times, but the process has always stopped.”
Hardy said there hasn’t been any new hires on the Fire Department for five years. That, he said, will create problems in the present and in the future. He said the Chief has been a good advocate for new hires with the Administration, but there hasn’t been any success as of yet. If new hires do come, however, he worries that replacing one-fifth of the Department all at once will lead to a very inexperienced staff – and also a large exodus of retirees in 30 years or so.
“It’s not the way to build a Fire Department,” said Hardy. “It’s almost like we’re forgotten at times because we are a very good Fire Department. The members have been doing a fantastic job, especially during COVID-19. They are doing the job and coming to work.”