Petersburg Fire Station closed temporarily Sunday due to lack of firefighters

‘City leaders to stop gambling with the safety of our community’
Petersburg Fire Station 5 reopens after being closed for hours this weekend.
Published: Sep. 26, 2022 at 7:48 PM EDT
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PETERSBURG, Va. (WWBT) - Petersburg fire station No. 5 off Johnson Road is back open after temporarily closing Sunday due to two firefighters calling out sick.

According to the city, the Johnson Road Station requires at least three firefighters to remain operational. As a result, it had to close its doors for approximately 5 hours while other crew members were called into work.

Station No. 5 was fully operational by 6:30 p.m. on Sept. 26. The city says the Walnut Hill and Market Street Fire Stations are a backup for the Johnson Road community in an emergency.

Resident Pamela Bingham says the closing, even if temporary, is concerning for her and the people in the communities nearby.

“It takes nothing for a fire to spread quickly, so the timing and response are critical,” Bingham said. “I have used the resources there, not for fires, but for emergency response.”

Bingham says response times from emergency services in the neighborhoods near the Johnson Road station are crucial because those areas have a significant elderly population.

“There are just so many issues here. People tend to live alone. They may have home health coming here, so having that station there was important,” Bingham said. “What if there was a fire? A lot of this just doesn’t make sense.”

The Association of Professional Fire Fighters agrees. They first alerted the public to the closure via social media.

In response, they said The Johnson Road Fire Station primarily serves neighborhoods and businesses across the Battlefield Park, Johnson Road and Flank Road corridors. The weekend shutdown resulted in longer response times for emergencies in those areas.

“The Petersburg Professional Fire Fighters Association urges all residents and business owners to tell city leaders to stop gambling with the safety of our community,” said a spokesperson.

“You need them to be geographically close to the areas they serve, and there are enough people in this ward for that fire station to be open,” Bingham said. “It has to be prioritized and they have to figure out staffing.”

Currently, the Petersburg Fire Department employs 33 firefighters, but the department says it’s trying to increase its staffing numbers. The city says Chief Watkins has developed a plan to create an open process to recruit entry-level people who want to work and grow into professional firefighters to serve Petersburg.

The open process will allow the city to fill vacant firefighter positions while preparing for personnel retirement and promotions. A job fair is scheduled to recruit firefighters on Oct. 8 at Petersburg Public Library from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The City of Petersburg adds that all frontline apparatus is back in service, including engine and ladder trucks. The Department of Fire, Rescue, and Emergency Services is operational with no expected lapse in service.

Petersburg has mutual aid firefighting and support agreements with surrounding localities.