Exclusive: Sounding the alarm on a Richmond firefighter shortage

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — 8News has uncovered an alarming shortage of Richmond firefighters.

The department is down 24 firefighters and taking drastic steps to make sure no call goes unanswered. Half of its fire prevention division has been pulled off of necessary building inspections and into fire stations around the City.

Keith Andes, President of Richmond Firefighters Association Local 995 says that’s worrisome.

“When you don’t have enough inspectors, it hurts our department as far as inspecting buildings and doing fire prevention,” Andes said.

Andes said so far there have been no missed calls or delays in response time, but the shortage of firefighters is sending the department’s overtime budget up in smoke.

Richmond Fire Chief Melvin Carter confirmed to 8News the department is racking up between $85,000 and $135,000 dollars in overtime every two weeks.

“So that is really an unsustainable amount of money to pay out for overtime,” Andes said.

However, the Chief tells us safety comes first.

 

To counter the costs to taxpayers and keep trucks rolling to the calls, Chief Carter is now posting help wanted signs for part-time firefighters. At $20 an hour, he’s luring some out of retirement and some working full time with other departments around the state.

The Chief says these folks don’t need training getting them on the street fast and increasing response time. Still, it does pose concerns.

“What physical toll is this taking on them for their primary job? Some departments aren’t allowing their folks to do this,” Andes said.

If you are wondering what prompted the shortage we’re told it’s a combination of retiring firefighters and a lack of funding to attract new recruits and hold recruit classes in the past.

Andes explained, “About five years we had some freezes in our pay and that hurt our recruiting.”

Pay raises were approved this year and a new recruit class will start in January adding about 22 to 25 new firefighter. Yet, it will be summer before they’re ready to hit the streets.

8News did some checking in the region, Chesterfield Fire Department tells us they are fully staffed. They have been holding recruit classes regularly to counteract firefighters planning to retire.

Henrico fire has 46 people in or about to enter the recruit academy. We’re told that will provide the department with the additional staff they need for when their new station, Station 19, opens in 2018.

8News reported this summer, the colonial heights fire department is in the midst of a shortage.

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