SC firefighters say some trucks are understaffed, putting communities and themselves in danger

SC firefighters say some trucks are understaffed, putting communities and themselves in danger

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Staff shortages are putting some of Columbia's firefighters and communities at risk, according to the local chapter of the International Association of Firefighters.

In a letter sent out Monday night, the Columbia Firefighters Association says quote, "numerous neighborhoods remain unprotected due to an insufficient number of firefighters on duty."

Jacob Eller heads the group and says at any given shift five fire trucks in the Columbia-Richland area are operating with one less firefighter than is considered safe by national organizations.

"It's a huge danger, going from 4 firefighters to 3. It means there's a task that's not being done on the fire scene, or if it is being done it has to be absorbed by one of the other firefighters. It puts us more at risk and potential puts the community and the property more at risk," Eller said.

He said staffing shortages started after Hurricane Florence but was prompted to take action after the latest Richland County budget came out last month and the necessary funds to fully staff all trucks weren’t in there.

"The county and city is growing, our department and numbers need to reflect that as well. We need to be moving forward not moving backwards, and this just can't be the new norm for us," Eller said.

According to research, operating with one fewer firefighter adds a measurable danger. The National Institute of Standards and Technology found there is about a 25 percent slower response rate when you go from four to three firefighters at a scene.

Eller and Columbia Fire Chief Aubrey Jenkins say they need more funding to fix this problem.

"The budget has been trimmed somewhat [in the past], but in this case, it has been trimmed significantly," Jenkins said.

WIS hasn't heard back from the Richland County Commissioner, but one council member did respond to questions regarding the budget.

"The Council is well aware of the constraints and is working to make needed changes," said Dalhi Meyers, Richland County Council member.

The Columbia Fire Department gets funding from Richland County and the City of Columbia, and officials said they are not concerned with the city's budget.

“I’m just going to make a decision and we are going to start up riding strong.”

Jenkins said he plans on meeting with members of the county board next week to continue discussing the budget.

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