EAST CLEVELAND, OH – Three East Cleveland firefighters were hurt during a house fire and the city’s fire chief told us they don’t have enough people to do their jobs safely.
“I’ve never seen anything like that in my whole life,” said Eric Skillern who woke up Sunday to his next door neighbors’ house filled with flames and smoke. Thankfully, everyone got out alive, but when Skillern saw just a handful of East Cleveland firefighters show up to the scene, he thought the city’s in trouble. “Somebody’s going to die because you don’t have enough people to take care of the situation,” said Skillern.
We asked East Cleveland Fire Chief Rick Wilcox if his current firefighters are battling fires safely. “No. I would never say that as a fire chief with the current staffing level as it sits,” said Wilcox.
He told us three of the five total firefighters on duty Sunday received concussions and neck injuries while fighting the fire on Charles Road yesterday. Another firefighter already had a torn ligament. “The only reason he didn’t go home is because he didn’t want to leave the department short,” said Wilcox.
The chief went on to explain that on any given day the department has 4-7 firefighters on duty for medical and fire runs. Last year alone the department got 6,200 calls for service. He also said the department just got approval for a $1.7 million FEMA grant two weeks ago that would allow the hiring of up to 18 new firefighters. However, the chief told us that accepting the grant means the city would not be able to lay off anyone in the department. So, with more budget cuts likely in 2017, the city is still trying to figure out if it wants to take the firefighter grant.
We were told on Monday that the mayor wasn’t around. City Council President Thomas Wheeler said he would talk to us on camera, but he did not call back and he was not at the council offices where we were supposed to meet.
It’s a frustration the people of East Cleveland are living. “They need to do something. Somebody needs to do something,” said Skillern.
Meanwhile, the chief told us the city is getting fined $1,250 per day because it is in breach of the firefighters’ contract with staffing levels. That’s nearly a dollar for every minute.
At 6:45 p.m. Monday, there was an emergency city council meeting at city hall about possible annexation plans that would help with city finances.