Richmond Fire Department vacancies raise concern for safety of city

Published: Jun. 6, 2022 at 11:31 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - On Monday, the Richmond Professional Fire Fighters Association sent an email to City Council expressing its concerns about the current vacancies in the Richmond Fire Department.

According to Keith Andes, the association’s president, there are 46 vacant positions out of the department’s more than 400 jobs.

Andes calls it a staffing crisis, with some of those spots opening at the start of this year.

“Thirteen have come unexpectedly since January, so people are leaving our department - not just retiring from our department but choosing to leave for various opportunities, and we’re not here to place blame or anything else,” Andes said. “They’re just leaving, and we have to find folks to fill those vacancies as quickly as we can.”

He said because of the opened positions from July 1, 2021, to May 15, 2022, the total overtime spent was $3.8 million and is projected to be $4.3 by June 30, 2022.

Over the last thirty days, Andes said that 50% of the time, the RFD has run companies short-staffed, causing members to work an average of 64 hours a week.

He said it’s more time that crews spend in dangerous situations, tired and worn out.

“Money is great, but if our folks can’t stay long enough on this earth in the time frame that they have in retirement to be able to spend that, where are we really going with it,” Andes said.

Councilwoman Reva Trammell, chair of the public safety committee, said she was disappointed when she read the email on Monday.

“It should be a wake-up call to all of us council members because I’m going to tell you right now, the citizens are getting tired as hell seeing what is going on,” Trammell said.

She said this is why she is fighting for collective bargaining for city employees to treat all first responders fairly.

“What’s going to happen when you have a major fire, and there are no more firefighters?” Trammell said.

Next year, the city’s budget also calls for increasing firefighters’ pay from 10 to 15 percent. Still, Andes would like to see the city spend more time trying to hire staff that already have fire fighting experience to fill up the vacancies faster.

“By doing a lateral class, it cuts it down to by about four weeks. So, it puts people in seats quicker, and we feel that’s needed now,” Andes said.

He said hiring fresh firefighters could take up to 22 weeks, and while they have 28 new employees presently in a training facility, those members will not be in stations until the end of October.

Andes said another concern is this summer when those who have been working overtime finally take a vacation and the impact it could make on day-to-day operations.

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