VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) – Every second counts when it comes to responding to a fire emergency, so keeping fire departments staffed is vital.
However, an incident on May 2 put a spotlight on staffing issues in the Virginia Beach Fire Department.
Fire Engine 15, which usually services the North End area of Virginia Beach, including Fort Story, was forced out of commission because there were not enough firefighters to run it.
A brownout, according to President of Virginia Beach Professional Fire & EMS Max Gonano, hadn’t happened in Virginia Beach since the 1990s.
Deputy Fire Chief Vance Cooper said the magic number of four people to man it wasn’t reached, an anomaly because of the pure exhaustion of his crews.
“We were coming off of two funerals, the SITW (Something in the Water) planning, and the 24/7 staffing for the SITW weekend, which finished up with a tornado,” Cooper said. “They were just exhausted and saying, ‘Hey I need a little down time,’ and there weren’t enough people to call back.”
He said the number of firefighters they had to call in to cover other areas in the city made it impossible to run the engine.
“We had 29 people we had to call back or mandatorily hold over that day.”
Gonano said that’s the biggest problem.
“So out of a 72-hour period, you’re working 60 hours, and 12 of that against your will,” Gonano said, “So, it’s difficult on everybody, it’s difficult on the crews, it’s difficult on the home life of those crews, it’s disruptive. It’s not optimal at all.”
However, Cooper said a solution is on its way in the form of academy graduates.
“We have a little less than 30 people in school right now that’ll graduate, I think sometime around July.”
Gonano said that’s not enough to completely fix the issues.
“It doesn’t matter,” Gonano said, “because by the time they get out, there’s so many people that’ve retired or just left that the problem isn’t solved.”