by Tony Rutherford HuntingtonNews.Net Reporter
Fire Damaged Facemask
Fire Damaged Facemask

The reduced staffing availability levels have not cost lives, yet, but the vice president of Huntington Professional Firefighters Local 289, Shane Masters, asserts they likely have made some fires a longer burn due to reduced and/or reassigning  firefighters for a second call. Masters revealed that when a hot water tank led to a three house structure fire on Monroe Avenue, firefighters were on the second floor inside the burning buildings suppressing the blaze. A dispatch to the east end of town resulted in working firefighters leaving one working fire to battle another.

"We had to pull people out of the second floor , to get back on the truck, because we had basically the whole fire department at the three houses on fire," Masters said. "If our manpower is where it should be, we have companies moved up into that district. I was on the fire from the 14th St. W station, you would have people from the University Station staging, waiting and covering [the 14th St. W.] district and all of Westmorland."

At prior full staffings, which had to be  cut due to critical financial shortfalls in police and fire pension obligation, "You have people ready to respond from the Huntington Fire Department. You do not have the full department [shift fighting] the  three house fires," Masters explained.

Asked whether pulling firefighters from the three house Monroe Avenue blaze led to more structure damage, Masters responded, "Absolutely. We dodged a bullet there. We have dodged many bullets. That hot water tank fire went up burnt a plastic water line and the water line put most of the fire out."

Stressing the 'disaster waiting to happen' scenario, Masters recalled that due to the massive first response on the Emmons fire 28 successful rescues were made by HFD.

On the Emmons fire, the responding firefighters (not counting command staff) included  nine people from #1 (Downtown), six people from #2 and three people from #4. "If we keep doing cuts," Masters warned, "instead of those numbers, we'll end up with as low as six people showing up [initially]." As another 'for instance," Masters added, "If we are running 18 people per shift and an Emmons fire comes in , who knows what loss of life [will occur]. If we don't have the resources --- the guys and gals to do it --- we are handcuffed. We're doing rescue and fire suppression at the same time."

When making his predictions, Masters  separates arson related fire from other origins, but admits, “they are getting a head start on us. We were fighting one fire [on Monroe Avenue] and we had another structure fire come in.”

He  primarily points to  the  current series of “supposed arson fires” plaguing the city as fires  allegedly started with an accelerant.

“Whenever they have run five gallons of gas through the place, and we show up on scene and it’s blowing out the windows, we do what we can.” That likely places the Fire Department in more of a containment mode.

“On a normal fire , we are [still] getting a good knock down even though our personnel has been cut,” Masters said, explaining, “On an undermined house fire without arson, we’re usually getting in and knocking them down like we always have. “

However, when they  “ come up on a blow torch whether you have nine or 15 guys shows up, it’s going to be the same result. There’s nothing you can do [except] get the thing knocked down to get inside.”

But does reduced staffing potentially lead to longer burning and thus more damage?

“Anytime you [reduce staff fighting at a working blaze], fires are not going to be put out as quickly. Until we get our [staff] back up to 27 , [the McGrath study says 25],  we’re looking to get somebody hurt or killed on the job, whether it be a citizen or a firefighter. We can’t continue running with 18.”