Some Columbia fire stations might have to close because of a shortage of firefighters, the firefighters lobbying organization said Friday.
That assertion drew a quick reaction from city leaders.
Closing fire stations never has been and never will be an option for this city, city manager Steve Gantt said. They dont run the Columbia Fire Department, he said of the association. Last time I checked, Chief (Aubrey) Jenkins does.
Citing recent figures released by the department that 250 firefighters have left in the past seven years, the Columbia Firefighters Association issued a statement Friday afternoon saying, stations may potentially be closed based on available staffing. This may put the citizens of Columbia and firefighters at risk.
The current staffing, according to the association press release, means the department doesnt have enough firefighters to adequately staff their stations.
Jenkins said Friday the department has about 395 firefighters, excluding the command staff. The association does not have collective bargaining power with the city.
The association said City Council has known about pay and other complaints for months. Training and then losing firefighters to better paying jobs has cost the city more than $3 million in the past five years, according to the organization.
What more will it take for the city of Columbia to make this happen? the firefighters organization states. A firefighter death, civilian death?
Gantt, in a written response, cited on-the-job improvements the city has made.
In the past two years, the city has added $2.5 million to the departments budget, secured about $2 million in fire safety grants, provided emergency medical training, extended new line-of-duty death benefits and included firefighters in the citys first cost-of-living raise in almost five years for all city employees.
Reach LeBlanc at (803) 771-8664.