Firefighter shortages caused some local stations to temporarily close

COLUMBUS, Miss. (WCBI) – Columbus is not lacking the need for emergency help, but it was short on firefighters over the weekend.

Saturday, Lehmberg Road’s Fire Station 5 was closed for 24 hours.

Chief Duane Hughes said it is not because there were no fires but because there weren’t enough firefighters available.

“Traditionally with Columbus Fire and Rescue we would have an employment drive we would have up to 50 to 70 applicants. The applicant pool has dropped. Notably, on the last drive, we had three applicants,” said Hughes.

The Lehmberg Road fire station closed its doors for 24 hours Saturday because it was understaffed. And firefighter shortages are becoming common across the nation.

The everyday demands of the job have caused many to veer away from their career.

Here in Columbus, it takes up to a year to fully train an applicant and get them EMT certified.

“This has a lot to do with prior generations not being as concerned with having a career and it also has to do with the amount of pay a firefighter receives, ” said Hughes.

Columbus Fire Rescue restricts the number of hours a person can work consecutively.

After 96 hours or four shifts, a firefighter must stay off the clock for 24 hours.

The chief also said overtime is limited due to budgeting, sometimes leaving more responsibility for nearby stations.

“We do everything within our resources and power to keep a fire station open. There are situations that are beyond our control. This past weekend we had several of our captains that were actually out of the state for training. We had individuals that were on debridement leave for the loss of family members. It did not leave those citizens in that area unprotected because we made sure to make sure adequate staffing at a nearby fire station,” said Hughes.

Local insurance agent Lauren Barker said safety isn’t the only concern if fire stations have to close their doors more often.

“Homeowners rates are protected by the fire protection class and the city of Columbus is in protection class three. They are class three because of the different trainings and certifications that our local city fire department has but if they are closed long term that could affect homeowners rates over time if we lost that protection class three rating,” said Barker.

The chief said they are working internally to combat these issues and be proactive in getting applicants on that one-year probation period.

Right now, they are not planning to close any more stations

He encouraged anyone who is interested in this career to fill out an application in person at City Hall or online at cityofcolumbusms

For 24/7 news and updates, follow us on Facebook and Twitter

Categories: Featured, Local News