Alarm sounded over Wake firefighter shortage
Posted May 12, 2008 5:48 p.m. EDT
Updated May 12, 2008 8:32 p.m. EDT
Raleigh, N.C. — Wake County needs to hire more than 200 firefighters in the next three years to properly staff dozens of area fire stations, a panel said Monday.
The county Fire Commission asked the Board of Commissioners to spend more than $7.6 million to hire the firefighters, saying only three of 37 fire stations serving unincorporated areas of the county are staffed by at least four firefighters 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
"The fire service in its present configuration cannot keep up with (population) growth and demands for service delivery," Fairview Rural Fire Chief Edward Brinson said.
Most county fire stations are staffed by part-time and volunteer firefighters, but the Fire Commission said they number of volunteer firefighters has dropped by 24 percent in the past decade, from almost 800 to fewer than 600.
In addition, relying on volunteers has resulted in slower response times, the commission said.
"(Using volunteers) creates a significant delay in our response time from the time we get call to arrive on the scene," Brinson said.
Kevin Radford, a part-time firefighter for the Swift Creek Fire Department, also works full-time for the Raleigh Fire Department and volunteers in Garner. He said many of his part-time colleagues at Swift Creek also perform multiple firefighting roles across the county.
The Fire Commission cited the move to full-time staff at Garner Fire Station No. 2 as proof that hiring more firefighters could improve response times. Responses were cut from an average of about 12 minutes in 2005 to less than nine minutes last year, the commission said.
"All throughout Wake County, people pay the same amount of tax. It's not fair for some areas to have 24-hour coverage and some don't," Radford said.
Commissioner Lindy Brown said she supports increasing fire service across the county but said raising taxes to pay for more firefighters would be a tough sell.
"The money is not there," Brown said. "I would think the citizens of Wake County would put that in perspective. Money is needed, (and) we've got to invest in our firefighters."