Association says multiple Portsmouth fire companies out of service

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — An association of firefighters and paramedics is saying six fire companies in Portsmouth are out of service, citing staffing shortages.

The Portsmouth Professional Fire Fighters and Paramedics Association posted to Facebook Sunday that the companies were out of service because of a “major staffing shortage.”

Special Report: Delayed Response Times

One of the out of the service companies is Engine 2, which the association says provides service in the downtown area of the city. This also includes Rescue 1, a vehicle that provides “service through the city on high priority eventsservice through the city on high priority events.”

Other engines and ladders out of service cover areas including Cavalier Manor and Churchland, according to the Facebook post.

Related: Fatal fire in Portsmouth raises staffing shortage concerns

The association responded to comments on Facebook Sunday, noting at one point that the fire department has 50 vacancies. This staffing shortage has compounded over the last five years, according to the association.

Fire Captain Justin Arnold refused to comment before heading into a regularly scheduled meeting where the staffing shortages was to be discussed, except to say all staffing is where it should be.

An unnamed union official sent this:

“Yesterday’s staffing shortages are the result of 6 plus years of inadequate hiring to fill vacancies within the Fire Department…we have been over worked and covering too many open shifts for too long.”

That appears to be the case in response to the post City Manager Dr. Lydia Pettis Patton sent an email reminding council members about increased cost of overtime with Fire Department Staffing.
She noted the past problems, and it’s estimated the Fire Department has about 50 vacancies, and those vacancies force those on staff to work extra overtime which adds up.

Dr. Patton also emailed council members about the union’s Facebook post on Sunday’s staff shortages.

“This morning the Battalion Chief had 12 open staffing slots and used the staffing software to attempt to get off duty personnel to take the overtime slots which have all. Even accepted in the past. This morning there were no replies from off duty personnel.”

“Please be advised there have been no cuts in overtime. The Chief briefed his Senior staff on measures to monitor overtime, with possible decreases. Chief Hoffler has not stopped any overtime opportunities.”

The union official who wants to remain unnamed says if the problem is not fixed soon yesterday’s staffing levels may become the norm.

“We have been over worked and covering too many open shifts for too long. City Officials are aware of this issue and are working to resolve it, but if it is not fixed soon yesterday’s staffing levels may become the norm.”

No comment from the Interim Fire Chief Jim Hoffler, the personnel at the three fire stations we visited, the city manager, City Councilman Nathan Clark who has been a fire fighter, and even the union official who text us wants to remain ‘unnamed.’

From: City Manager Request
Sent: Sunday, October 1, 2017 12:51 PM
To: Mayor John Rowe; Cherry, Paige; Moody, William; Psimas, Elizabeth; Whitaker, Mark; LucasBurke, Lisa; Clark, Nathan
Cc: White, Debra – City Clerk; Ashby, Solomon
Subject: Fire Department Coverage

Mayor, Vice Mayor and Members of City Council,

As you are aware during our FY 2017 End of Year Budget results PWS presentation, I called to your attention the Increased cost of overtime expended through the Fire Department staffing.

With that said, both the Fire Chief, Human Resources and Chief Financial Officer have met and will continue through next week meeting to devise a sound and thoughtful means to address the overtime issue. Please note, there have been no operational changes or decisions made regarding this matter.

This morning the Battalion Chief had 12 open staffing slots and used the staffing software to attempt to get off duty personnel to take the overtime slots which have all. Even accepted in the past. This morning there were no replies from off duty personnel.

With any department today there is the usual Annual or Holiday leave training, sick leave, leave without pay and death in the family leave being taken by fire employees.

Please be advised there have been no cuts in overtime. The Chief briefed his Senior staff on measures to monitor overtime, with possible decreases. Chief Hoffler has not stopped any overtime opportunities.

There is a social media post that speaks the opposite of the factual information you are now provided. We will continue the work described and Report Back on October 10 PWS.

Have a wonderful Sunday.

Dr. L. Pettis Patton
City Manager
City of Portsmouth
801 Crawford Street
Portsmouth, VA