Staffing Concerns After N.Y. Firefighter Trapped

Posted: 10-29-2009

BY HUMBERTO MARTINEZ
Albany Times Union, N.Y.


TROY, N.Y. -- It seemed like it would be a routine maneuver: firefighter Ray Littlejohn would go up to the second floor, whip the hose around and douse the flames consuming the Troy home on Saturday morning.

But it was only a matter of seconds -- not even long enough for him to realize -- before he had fallen through the blaze-weakened staircase and been trapped in the basement.

"We told you so" was said repeatedly by the Troy Uniformed Firefighters Association as they rallied around the Rankin Avenue home on Wednesday. They said an understaffed Station 2 in Troy has lead to numerous dangerous situations that are being ignored by city officials.

"Is the city administration waiting for a serious conflagration, citizen death or firefighter death before they address the issue?" said Capt. David Paul, president of Troy Uniformed Firefighters Association Local 86. "Speaking metaphorically, let's put up the traffic light at this dangerous intersection before someone is killed and all we can say is 'we should have.'?"

The union is asking for two more firefighters per shift, for a total of five, to make up for what they said is a 56 percent increase in call volumes. Currently, Station 2 has both a fire engine and medical vehicle but only staffs three, who are able to operate just one of the vehicles at a time.

On Saturday, they received the call about Rankin Avenue fire at 6 a.m., but were already on a call in the medical vehicle. The fire engine sat unmanned and unable to respond in the station, Paul said, forcing engines from across the city to make their way over.

Paul said the firefighters blamed Littlejohn's fall and also the trapping of two citizens in the basement on the extra three minutes it took for fire engines to reach the home.

"As we have stated in the past, fire doubles in size every minute," Paul said. "This fire was now at least eight times larger as the first (engine) arrived."

If there were two more firefighters at the station per shift, both the medical vehicle and fire engine could be used to respond, avoiding similar situations, Paul said. He called on the mayor and city officials to fit extra staffing in the budget.

"It's a money issue for everyone," Paul said. "We just feel there are creative ways to fund this," he continued, alluding to the multiple incentives the city is giving to the restaurant Dinosaur Bar-B-Que to build a franchise in the city.

Paul pointed to an incident earlier in the summer where 15 firefighters were injured in a laboratory fire at RPI and exposed to unknown chemicals. He said meetings between the union, city administration and RPI to discuss the staffing concerns have been requested but never held.

To draw attention to the issue, Paul said the firefighters union will begin a campaign in a few weeks knocking on doors to collect signatures for a petition.

"I just don't want to be one of the guys that's standing here and saying I told you so when someone really gets hurt or dies," Paul said.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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