One issue at the forefront of firefighters minds is staffing. Roanoke is no different. I have gotten a lot of feedback since posting Staffing in Roanoke, Part II, and Part III. I get phone calls frequently about trucks being out of service. It is unfortunate we cannot have at least the minimum staffing met.
Roanoke's firefighters have continued to see the staffing reduced for many years. More recently, we have seen staffing get moved around like Engine 12's crew get reassigned to Medic 4 and Roanoke County Clearbrook Station to staff an engine and medic unit. This was done when engine 12 was disbanded. This year, engine 7 was taken out of service and its crew was reassigned to a medic truck at station 7 and to staff ladder 7 with 1 more additional firefighter (minimum staff on ladder 7 is 4 now).
Rarely a day goes by that an engine isn't out of service for half the day. Engine 2 or Engine 13 most commonly, but others are as well. I can imagine it is not easy for the Battalion Chiefs to figure out who will be marked out of service when because they don't have enough firefighters to staff them all of the time.
Today, Engine 2 is out of service for most of the day. It appears as though two of our EMT-Intermediates are riding as a third on two of the ambulances to be precepted. However, if you look at red alert it seems as though there are three other firefighters available riding as a 4th person on trucks. This is at the face value of red alert and how accurate the information is. If this is the case, that there are 3 extras, then shouldn't we move around some ff's so we can staff engine 2?
I realized when writing an older post that by marking units out of service for any length of time, we are not meeting the minimum staffing.
The fire service has a history of realizing needs after disasters. Not the firefighter necessarily, but the ones writing the checks. What is it going to take here in Roanoke for us to realize that we are playing with matches when it comes to staffing. Most of the reason why we mark trucks out of service is because we are short staffed. Basically, if a Battalion has more than 6 firefighter positions unfilled (vacation, holiday, light duty, extended illness, vacancy, etc.) then we have to call in for overtime. That is not a large threshold for calling in overtime. Obviously it is cheaper to call in overtime than it is to hire more firefighters. But we don't always call in overtime because it is too expensive. Basically, unless there is a need for a firefighter for an entire shift, we don't call in overtime. That means if we have a firefighter, making a crew of 3 and no extras in the City, who needs to go to training or whatever for 8 hours then we mark the truck out of service until the firefighter is back from training. Why don't we just fill the position with overtime. I know...because overtime is too expensive.
Rest assured, eventually it will catch up. I hope it doesn't, but the wrong persons house will burn, or someone will get injured or killed and the first due engine will be out of service because they don't have enough manpower. What is going to be cheaper then? The overtime.