Staffing in Roanoke

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Staffing in the Roanoke Fire-EMS Department. This topic has bothered me for a long time. There are several issues relating directly to staffing, and I hope to cover several of them in the next few paragraphs.

First of all lets talk about trucks being out of service. I think that if we had scrolling message boards outside of each station notifying the citizens of when the trucks are out of service and why, we would have several complaints. I know that a lot of it is part of life like going out of service occasionally and being out on a call, even out of service for training. However, being a firefighter on the Northside, it is amazing how often Engine 2 and Engine 13 are out of service due to manpower.

Now let me give you a little background. All of Roanoke City’s Fire Engines are staffed with a minimum of 3 firefighters (I will leave rank out of it). 3 of the 4 ladder trucks are staffed with a minimum of 3 firefighters. Recently, one of our Ladders (Ladder 7) has been staffed with a minimum of 4 firefighters. This is due to the fact that the Engine was taken out of service at that station and replaced with an ambulance. Better or worse, there are more issues concerning this removal of an engine. The Ladder that remained in place of the Engine Ladder combo now acts as a Quint, meaning the truck can do everything an engine and ladder can do (for the most part). The problem is that the truck doesn’t do anything on it’s own except sit quietly. Therefore, now you have 4 guys doing the job that in Roanoke requires 6 and in other cities requires 8 to 9 firefighters. That is right, in some cities, the minimum staffing is 4 on engines and ladders and even 5 on some ladders. But Roanoke apparently places a lot of stock in its firefighters by doing the job with 3.

I digress, the issue is staffing not removal of apparatus.

The point I was beginning to make with laying out the minimum staffing is just that; the minimum staffing is 3 on each piece except 1. If you walk in any fire station in Roanoke you will see 3 on the truck 80% of the time (just an educated guess). Where are all of the extra firefighters? Well the answer is that there aren’t many. With guys off on vacation, sick, and light duty, and vacancies due to retirements, firefighters quiting, and other reasons we are left with the minimum on duty.

So basically every day we begin with the minimum unless by chance a station here or there has an extra firefighter. Extra being used very loosely because actually an extra firefighter would be above and beyond the 4 assigned to most apparatus.

So that is at 0750 hours when we begin our shift. Soon, apparatus will be magically marked out of service because of numerous reasons. Company level training, individual training, drug tests, physicals, meetings, investigations, promotional testing, Captains meetings, and many other reasons. Basically, anything that would require at least 1 firefighter to leave the station and not be able to answer calls while being in their first due territory.

This is when, on the Northside, Engine 2 and/or Engine 13 are most commonly out of service. It is usually out of the Battalion Chiefs hands. They work with what they have. On the Southside, I would imagine that the situation is similar. I bet the citizens would have a fit if they knew how often these trucks are out of service, when just a handful of more firefighters would fix the problem.

In the past, I have been a huge proponent of minimum staffing of 4, or compliance with NFPA 1710. Right now, I am not even pushing for the minimum of 4, but rather just the minimum of 3.
After all, if we have to mark a truck out of service because a firefighter has to go to training then are we really meeting the minimum of 3. I THINK NOT. Minimum staffing of 3 should mean a minimum of 3 all the time. Doesn’t it just make sense. It seems to me like a cover up. Sure, the system allows for a certain amount of trucks to be out of service at a time. But for what reasons. Maybe we need to reform the system and add some positions just to ensure the minimum staffing is met.

I am kinda scared to ask for a minimum staffing of 4 anymore. The way things are currently going, if it was agreed upon, it would cost marking 5 trucks out of service unless of course we had every vacancy filled and everyone was at work that day.

I will leave you with a couple of things.

First of all, the Charleston review panel has come out with a recommendation of a minimum staffing of 4 in 2 years. Charleston FD is approximately the same size as Roanoke Fire-EMS.

Second, this video from the IAFF on NFPA 1710 (thanks for the heads up from Jay at Sorry for those of you on City Computers, you aren’t allowed to access YouTube.

Thirdly, this video from Fairfax County IAFF on the topic of staffing.

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