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Richmond Fire Department vacancies raise concerns for city safety

RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) — The Richmond Professional Fire Fighters Association sent an email to City Council on Monday expressing concern about current vacancies within the Richmond Fire Department.

According to association president Keith Andes, there are 46 vacancies out of more than 400 jobs in the department.

Andes calls it a staffing crisis, with some of those positions opening early this year.

“Thirteen have come in unexpectedly since January, so people are leaving our department – not just to retire from our department but choosing to leave for various opportunities, and we’re not here to blame or anything. “, Andes said. “They just left, and we need to find people to fill those positions as quickly as possible.”

He said that due to open positions from July 1, 2021 to May 15, 2022, the total overtime spent was $3.8 million and is expected to be $4.3 by June 30, 2022.

Over the past thirty days, Andes said 50% of the time the RFD has run businesses that are understaffed, forcing members to work an average of 64 hours a week.

He said crews are spending more time in dangerous situations, tired and exhausted.

“Money is great, but if our people can’t stay on this earth long enough in the amount of time they have in retirement to be able to spend it, where are we really going with that,” Andes said.

Councilwoman Reva Trammell, chair of the public safety committee, said she was disappointed when she read the email on Monday.

“This should be a wake-up call to all of us council members because I’m going to tell you right now that the citizens are tired of seeing what’s going on,” Trammell said.

She said that’s why she fights for collective bargaining to ensure city employees treat all first responders fairly.

“What will happen when you have a major fire and there are no more firefighters?” Tramel said.

Next year, the city’s budget also plans to increase the salary of firefighters by 10 to 15 percent. Still, Andes would like to see the city spend more time trying to hire staff who already have firefighting experience to fill vacancies more quickly.

“By doing a side course, that cuts it down to about four weeks. So it gets people seated faster, and we think that’s needed now,” Andes said.

He said it could take up to 22 weeks to hire new firefighters, and while they currently have 28 new employees at a training center, those members won’t be at stations until the end of October.

Andes said another concern is this summer when those who have been working overtime finally take vacations and the impact that could have on day-to-day operations.

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