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Help is on the way for the understaffed Richmond Fire Department

Posted at 3:31 PM, Sep 23, 2022

RICHMOND, Va -- Richmond firefighters are getting a significant boost to help them respond to emergencies more quickly and efficiently while taking the burden off an already strained department.

Standing in front of Fire Station 14 on the city's Northside, which has served the community for more than a century, Richmond Fire Chief Melvin Carter announced on Friday a historic investment into restoring critical resources for the fire department.

Carter said 13 fire companies, which are made up of crews of 3-4 staff members on a specific fire vehicle, have been dissolved across the city since 1970. That has placed the Richmond Fire Department (RFD) in a challenging spot as call volumes have increased by 700% since the 1980s.

“There have been many days and many nights that we barely had enough resources to respond to the needs of our citizens," Chief Carter said. “And on some occasions, we can wait up to 20 minutes for a truck to get to the place that it was dispatched to, and that's truly unacceptable.”

Richhmond Fire Department
The Richmond Fire Department expects to hire dozens of firefighters in the coming months.

Staffing has also been slashed over time, with one of the biggest cuts happening in 1997 when 75 positions were lost.

RFD currently faces a shortage of 48 firefighters out of more than 400 total positions, half of which Carter expects to be relieved in October after a new recruitment class graduates. Though crews have been stretched thin, help is coming soon.

RFD is receiving nearly $14 million from a grant awarded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to create 72 new positions beginning in March. These crews will support four fire companies including crews for three long trucks with ladders and one smaller engine that carries water and a hose.

“That means number one, that our response times will improve to emergencies," Carter said.

And the resources will also benefit first responders' safety.

“It will reduce the number of risks that are associated with firefighting and other hazards associated with this profession," Carter said.

The Chief also expected the efforts will lead to less mandatory overtime.

In July, the Richmond Professional Firefighters Association told the CBS 6 Problem Solvers that excessive mandatory overtime, necessary due to critical staffing shortages, was proving detrimental to the health of firefighters. President Keith Andes described an increase in mental health issues, sleep deprivation, and potentially cancer.

Andes also outlined overtime as a big expense for the city. He said from July 2021 through May 2022, the city spent $3.8 million on overtime within the fire department. He estimated that cost to rise an additional $500,000 by the end of July.

"Although mandatory overtime is not going away, we will rely less on the use of mandatory overtime, thus, putting less strain on the day-to-day requirements of our members," Carter said Friday.

When asked if the grant would support the fire prevention office, which RFD told CBS 6 in July was facing staffing shortages that caused delays in school inspections, Carter said, "Everyone in the fire department is a fire prevention person first. So yes, there is a large component of what we do that speaks to first community risk reduction and fire prevention."

New positions will be filled through RFD's recruitment process.

Open Houses are scheduled for:

  • September 24 at Fire Station 17 from 10 a.m. - Noon
  • September 29 at Fire Station 1 from 5 p.m. - 7 p.m.

The salary for a rookie Richmond firefighter is $49,900 and increased to $51,900 upon completion of the recruit academy.

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