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Chapel Hill Fire Department Burning Out From Staff Shortage

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CHAPEL HILL — Responding to a fire can be a matter of life or death for fire fighters. Now, one Triangle Fire department says it doesn't even have enough staff to safely handle its calls.

Chapel Hill already has strong mutual-aid agreements with the Carrboro, Orange County and Chatham County fire departments. They help each other whenever necessary. But the Chapel Hill chief wants his department to become less dependent on outside help.

As is often the case, the big question is budgetary. Chapel Hill has plans to add some additional fire fighters and an additional fire station in the future, but the fire chief says there is a critical need now. He wants 24 new fire fighters on the street as soon as possible.

Chapel Hill Town Manager Cal Horton says the town council has a decision to make.

"This is a question at the margin about service level," says Horton. "We know we need the 12 and another truck in the station, and the council has agreed to that. Do we need 12 more and another truck in addition to that, is the question."

Horton said the council has not yet completed its discussion on the matter and will take it up again May 20.

Chapel Hill's mayor says the council is looking at the matter. She said a priority for her is to try to raise the salaries for beginning firefighters in an attempt to attract more recruits for those positions.