FRESNO, California (KSEE) – The Fresno Fire Department is pleading with the city to add more positions, amid rising concerns that it is severely understaffed.
“Our firefighters are doing the work, day and night,” said Fresno Fire Union Chair Brad Driscoll. “We are running the wheels off of our engines responding to fires.”
Right now, there are approximately 300 firefighters for the approximately 530,000 people who live in Fresno. That’s an equivalent of around 0.55 firefighters per 1000 residents. The California average is 0.8 per 1000 residents. The national average is 1.5 firefighters per 1000 residents.
“As of today, we are 4,463 fires to date,” said Driscoll. “That is a 48% increase.”
81 firefighters work each day in Fresno. They often respond to multiple calls in a shift. The city’s goal is to meet the state average of 0.8 firefighters per 1000 residents by 2035. To get to that number, 300 more firefighters have to be hired.
The city’s goal is to meet the state average by 2035. Fresno City Council approved a budget proposal that would add 42 firefighters and three staff positions to the fire department.
Councilmember Paul Caprioglio said the city plans to apply for two SAFER grants (a federal grant aimed at helping understaffed departments across the country) in the next year. He said the grant will pay for the new position initially. After a few years, the city will have to pay for the salaries and added expenses like pensions.
“There are a lot of moving parts so we are working through them so the city has the best police and fire departments,” said Caprioglio.
Deputy Chief Ted Semonious said the next obstacle is the lack of infrastructure for housing and training. He said a maximum of 21 people could go through the training program at one time.
“So it isn’t just a staffing problem,” said Semonious. “It is going to be the infrastructure that goes with it. New fire stations. You know, different apparatus. Those kind of things is going to be where we can really improve the department.”
The opening period for the SAFER grants does not arrive until 2021.