Crime & Courts

Devine Street fire station returns to full staffing levels

Columbia’s Shandon Fire Station will have two fire trucks and eight firefighters on full-time duty today for the first time since April’s budget cuts.

Fire Chief Bradley Anderson said the department was able to restore one firetruck and three firefighters to the Devine Street station because of the money it saved by taking away half of firefighters’ paid holidays.

“It definitely will improve services not only in Engine 9’s primary response area, but it improves coverage throughout the city and county because of the fact that all of these stations work together in the system,” Anderson said. “The downside of this is that firefighters (still) are having to work more hours” because of the holiday cuts.

Years of financial mismanagement at City Hall lead to drastic budget cuts earlier this year when departments across the city had to absorb multi-million increases in employee health care benefits. The fire department responded by reducing staffing at the Devine Street and Atlas Road fire stations.

The Atlas Road station will continue to operate with reduced staffing, Anderson said.

The decision has become a hot issue in the race for Columbia’s next mayor, with attorney Steve Benjamin announcing a petition drive earlier this week to “put first responders first” in the city’s budgeting process.

“It’s bittersweet,” Benjamin said of the decision to restore staffing levels to the Devine Street Fire Station. “I wish council would spend a little more time finding other ways to do it and not do it on the back of firefighters.”

Councilman Kirkman Finlay, who is also running for mayor, said the move shows the council’s cost control methods are beginning to show some fruit.

“We’re in a worldwide recession and we’re able to maintain a high standard of public safety without anybody losing their jobs,” Finlay said. “It would be Cinderella to expect more.”

Travis Carricato, public information officer for the Columbia Firefighters Association, applauded the city’s efforts to restore the station’s staffing.

“I don’t want to sound like a complaining firefighter,” he said. “At some point we’ve got to be good stewards and good employees and say, ‘All right, they’re doing the right thing.’ At least this money is not going to the general fund, this money is now staying within the fire department.”

Reach Beam at (803) 386-7038.