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How the economic impacts of COVID-19 led to the closing of Fire Station 4

Petersburg City Manager says the closure was for two reasons
Posted at 6:12 PM, Apr 20, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-20 18:41:50-04

PETERSBURG, Va. -- Saturday morning was a tough day at Petersburg Fire Station 4. The Walnut Hill fire station was cleaned out by both on duty and off duty firefighters.

When they were done, station 4 was officially closed.

Petersburg City Manager says the closure was for two reasons.

"We made a decision that we needed to move the individuals out of that station, for both a health and safety reason but also a financial reason, to ensure we are making the right decisions with our finances,” said Aretha Ferrell-Benavides.

Mold is the health reason.

The financial reason is because of the economic impacts of COVID-19.

"We realize that this is going to be severe,” said Ferrell-Benavides.

"We're looking at a $1.6 million revenue shortfall," said Ferrell-Benavides.

Additionally, she says the city will have a $4.33 million revenue loss next fiscal year due to COVID-19.

To keep the city from going under, city leaders proposing cuts starting at the top of the fire department.

"We have now eliminated the deputy chief in lieu of a chief and we've also reduced one division chief," said Ferrell-Benavides.

While Fire Station 4 has been closed since April 9, the clean out wasn't supposed to be this past weekend, according to Public Safety Chief Kenneth Miller.

"This was not a task that was supposed to be done on Saturday, this was a task that should have been done a week ago. That would have given the gradual time," said Miller.

Other cuts will happen in both the police and fire departments, but with vacant positions.

With the loss of station 4, and the personnel now located on Johnson Road, response times are now a concern for some in the community.

"We have not seen a delay, yet. I'm still looking at the numbers with respect to response times," said Chief Miller.

City leaders admit they are making tough decisions but Ferrell-Benavides says one proposal is actually an addition to the city.

"Part of what has been asked is that we really do need to put in and bring a chief back in, and so we will be recruiting now for a new fire chief.”

Ferrell-Benavides.says she would like to have the new fire chief at work by September. Interim Battalion Chiefs, who have been in that role for three years, will soon have the chance to take on the role permanently.

There is also talk in the future of a combined Fire Station 4 and 5 at a new location.