NEW ORLEANS, LA – Nearly all the fire trucks in New Orleans are rolling shorthanded, a situation the firefighters’ union says puts its members and the public at risk.
Nick Felton, head of the firefighters’ local, said about three-quarters of the city’s 30 pumper trucks and six ladder companies roll with only three firefighters.
Best practices, adopted by a laundry list of national first-responder organizations, call for four-person crews so a single truck or ladder company can adhere to the “two in, two out” rule, Felton said. Two firefighters attack the fire from the inside while another monitors the blaze from the outside for their safety and another handles the hoses and other tasks around the rig, he said.
Several firehouses are not permanently staffed with three-person crews, Felton said. “It’s putting our guys at risk, and it’s making the public less safe,” he said.
New Orleans Fire Department Superintendent Tim McConnell said that while some companies might operate a man short on certain days, it is not putting the public or firefighters at risk.
“Our staffing is not what it was pre-Katrina, but our number of fires is down 250 percent from where it was 12 years ago,” McConnell said. “And our officers are trained to make sure they don’t respond in an improper way or take unnecessary action until someone shows up. They make sure they have two in and two out.”
McConnell estimated the NOFD is short 30 firefighters and that graduating a new class, something that hasn’t happened since 2011, would largely solve the problem. Each class typically has up to 25 people.
There are approximately 1,400 names on a waiting list to become firefighters and once they take the civil service test, which should happen in the coming months, the department will be able to beef up staffing, McConnell said.
“If we could hire and get our numbers, I’d like to have four on our pumps. But at this point we’re doing OK,” McConnell said.