Fall River Fire Department staff cuts could give city region's worst ratio of firefighters to residents
Updated On: Mar 25, 2014
FALL RIVER — If Mayor Will Flanagan moves to slash the Fall River Fire Department's staffing by one-third, the city could have the worst firefighter-to-population ratio in the region.
The Herald News used data from 2012 census estimates and newspaper reports to compare the city’s fire department with the communities of New Bedford, Brockton and Taunton.
With a current staffing level of 213, the Fall River Fire Department covers the city’s 40 square miles with its 750 streets and 255 miles of roadway.
The fire department has currently one firefighter to every 418 people.
With Flanagan’s proposal to cut 60 firefighters — leaving a complement of 153 — that ratio rises to one firefighter for every 581 people.
Compare that to New Bedford, which has a higher population of 94,929 but which covers 24 square miles, a little more than half the coverage area of Fall River.
With the New Bedford Fire Department having 235 firefighters, the city has the lowest ratio, one firefighter to every 404 people, of the cities examined.
The Brockton Fire Department, with a staff of 184, has a ratio of one to 511; and the Taunton Fire Department’s 120 firefighters give the city a one-to-467 ratio.
Jason Burns, president of the firefighters Local 1314, said he’s been talking to members of his union and that there is a large amount of frustration among the ranks toward Flanagan.
“If this conversation had been done two years ago, you wouldn’t be setting people up,” Burns said. “Just be honest.”
Up until December, Burns said Flanagan promised the fire department that, in fiscal 2015, the department would be staffed to 200 and, if the city won another SAFER grant, there would be 16 firefighters added.
Last Friday, Flanagan announced that maintaining 200 firefighters was not sustainable because of fiscal troubles and that, if the union didn’t agree to concessions, 60 firefighters could face layoffs.
Flanagan said Tuesday that he is seeking to amend the SAFER grant application to request money for 50 additional firefighters and reached out the federal delegation for their advocacy.
“That will get us back to the 200 number,” Flanagan said of the staffing level if the grant is approved.
It’s déjà vu for the city. In 2009, the fire department was cut to 153, but a temporary windfall of federal SAFER grants pumped up the manpower. The SAFER funding expires in July.
Flanagan said a complement of 153 firefighters would still meet national fire standards, but Burns said that’s not the whole story.
The National Fire Protection Association standards require a four-man apparatus to answer a call within four minutes, which Burns said can be accomplished.
It’s the standard that requires the second response of 15 to 17 firefighters within eight minutes that Burns said would be affected by reduced staffing.
“That’s when we’re going to struggle,” Burns said.
As in 2009, fire equipment will be taken out of commission. Burns said Fire Chief Robert Viveiros said he will likely “close” Heavy Rescue 1, apparatus that carries crew who search for victims in fires.
Last year, three of those crew members were severely injured working a fire on Plymouth Avenue.