Roanoke Fire/EMS Apparatus and Staffing

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WARNING…rant ahead.

Let us talk for a minute about our apparatus. In recent years, we have seen a trend of catching up in the purchasing of fire and ems apparatus in Roanoke. I commend the powers that be as well as the apparatus committee of finding funding for certain apparatus. Ladder 2, Engine 11, 13, and 1 are all new apparatus and have proven to be very efficient. All but Engine 11 are Pierce. Engine 11 is a M&W fire engine. All of the aforementioned apparatus were very well received among the firefighters in the City.

The ambulance fleet seems to be seeing a decent turn-around on replacement. Although, we still suffer from the constant strain put on these trucks from running up and down the street all day long. These trucks have witnessed a shortened life span, and it is understandable.

However, with all that said we still have significant issues in our fleet. Some of the issues are understandable ( some are nearing the end of their useful life and need replacement), some issues were preventable (overweight, under-designed, and poorly planned apparatus), and yet others are not acceptable.

I learned recently that the reserve ladder truck cannot drive up certain hills in Roanoke. Recently, the reserve ladder truck, could not drive up Adams Street in NW Roanoke. The ladder truck made the turn, and the street was wide enough, the problem was the truck stopped moving forward. That is right, the truck could not pull its own weight up a hill and subsequently had to be backed down the road and the crew had to find an alternate route. This is inexcusable.

This ladder truck is our only reserve ladder truck currently. The truck is in service for ladder 13 at Station 13 currently, because Ladder 7 is out of service. Huh? Let me explain. Remember when they got rid of engine 7 and began utilizing Ladder 7 as a quint, well if ladder 7 goes out of service then ladder 13 has to be moved to station 7 to fill in and ladder 13 gets the reserve ladder. Do you follow now? It is a tangled mess.

Administration has already planned on replacing ladder 13. Unfortunately it isn’t soon enough. Now remember that ladder 7 and ladder 13 are only about 10 years old. The ongoing joke is that they will use ladder 13 as a “parts car” for ladder 7.

However, there is recent rumor that Roanoke City is thinking about purchasing a 100′ aluminum ladder on a single axle rear end to replace ladder 13. Didn’t they learn their lesson with the two quints we have now.

Here is a solution:

  • Float a bond to purchase enough trucks to catch up. 3 ladder trucks and 4 engines to replace ladder 1, 7, and 13 and engines 2, 5, 6, and 8. This will leave you with a decent reserve fleet and replace the trucks which need it.
  • Replace the ladder trucks with tiller 100′ straight sticks.
  • Then make minimum staffing on all ladder trucks 5.
  • You can easily obtain this with the SAFER Grant. Roanoke City won’t end up paying the full 100% of the increased manpower for 10 years (don’t quote me on that). IF YOU THINK 5 IS TOO MANY WATCH A LADDER TRUCK WORK AT A FIRE. There are too many tasks left incomplete or unaccomplished due to lack of manpower. Case and point, there might still be a roof on the apartments on 13th Street. However, that might be a strategy and tactics issue as well.
  • While writing the SAFER grant application, ask for more staffing for the engines as well. A 4 firefighter minimum would bring our staffing to acceptable levels. If you are paying attention, one of the first recommendations by the panel in Charleston was to increase staffing to 3…then 4. It doesn’t have to be overnight, but the change would make things a whole lot safer and more efficient.
  • Since I am on the topic…you know that problem with the medic trucks running too many non-emergency calls.
  • Well here are two solutions:
  • One: invest in priority dispatching, turning over the non-emergent calls to a third party transport company.
  • Or…Two: re-invest the transport billing funds back into the system and put more ambulances on the street.
  • …but that brings up another issue; not enough ALS providers. I am not going to tackle that right now. I will however hit on it AGAIN soon.
I know I didn’t hit on everything I wanted to, but I think this is a good list. Before you start jumping down my throat for saying that “they” or “administration” or anyone else doesn’t do anything, re-read what I wrote. I just outlined how to continue the work that has been started and finish the job.

We have been so lucky for a long time. If you read current events across America, you will find incidents occurring everyday which require more firefighters than we have on all three shifts combined. While I don’t expect us to suddenly inflate our staffing to absurd levels, it would be nice to know that we are starting the game with enough players.

Stay safe

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