The City of Poughkeepsie Fire Department is at its lowest staffing level in its history, said fire Chief Mark Johnson, reports poughkeepsiejournal.com.
But some temporary relief is on the way — $960,000 in federal grant funds to hire seven more firefighters for two years. Democratic Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney of Cold Spring helped secure the funding, which will cover firefighters’ salaries and benefits through FEMA’s Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response grants.
The money to hire more firefighters couldn’t have come at a better time, Johnson said. The department is understaffed, having “lost people continually through attrition or the removal of positions” over the past several years.
The National Fire Protection Association recommends a department have the ability to send a 15-member-team to an initial structure fire report.
But the city staffs each 24-hour-shift with 10 firefighters and two officers, leaving them three people short “to properly address even the smallest single-family home fire, without exposure issues and life hazard issues,” Johnson said. And in Poughkeepsie, which has hundreds of vacant or abandoned properties — havens for squatters in the winter — and homes packed tightly together, “we have to deal with at least one or two other buildings” next to the fire.
The seven extra firefighters will put them in compliance with NFPA recommendations, “which we desperately need for the safety of the city and the safety of our firefighters,” the chief added.
In 2008, the department had a staff of 73, including 55 firefighters, “officers, the fire inspection bureau and a training division,” Johnson said. By this year, that number had dropped to 59 employees, including 46 firefighters. But “with injuries and pending retirements, we’re down to 40 firefighters actually out doing the work every day.”