RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC)– The Richmond Fire Department is facing a staffing shortage and some of its vacant positions have been frozen by the city.

The department told 8News Tuesday that out of its 47 unfilled positions, ten of them were frozen by city leaders.

Keith Andes, the president of the Richmond Professional Firefighters Association IAFF Local 995, said he wrote a letter to the city council pleading for a change.

“As we enter the summer months, when vacations kick into full gear, it is my sincere feeling we will be at our breaking point, and I will not allow blame to be placed on our members,” said in his letter to city council members.

Fire crews are trained to work in teams of four, but this past weekend was a different scene, Andes said.
“Training with four people, that’s in our policies,” he said. “Now we’re being asked to work with three in some instances.”

Andes said that over the weekend several engine companies had teams of three responding to emergency calls.

Richmond Fire said four members are assigned to each unit daily, including engine and truck companies.

“While some fire companies operated over the weekend with three members, rather than the desired four, the Richmond Fire Department continually strives to maintain the 2020 National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1710 benchmark standard,” the fire department said.

Andes said that because the fire department is understaffed and stretched too thin, more pressure is put on firefighters. According to him, the staffing shortage can lead to delayed response times and could put the community’s health and safety at risk.

“These fire stations are highly trained,” he said. “Our folks our dealing with cancer at an unacceptable rate, mental health, these are all issues that I think are going to come out of them working more overtime.”

Andes said the department’s overtime cost is predicted to hit $4 million on June 30.

Since January, 22 people left the fire department – which includes seven retirements.

Richmond Fire said the department began recruiting new firefighters in May and will continue until all of the positions are filled.

The training for new firefighters typically takes 24-26 weeks, according to the department.

To speed up the process though, the department said they are modernizing their training programs by “incorporating on-the-job training using designated training companies in the field, virtual/distance learning programs, and facility training hours.”

Richmond Fire also hired five temporary firefighters – all of who recently retired from the department – to help with the staffing challenges.

“In 2022, everything’s getting back up and running. We should not be having the vacancies at the rate that we’re having them now,” Andes said.

8News contacted the Mayor’s office to find out why 10 fire department positions were frozen and what that money is being used for instead and the department of Budget and Strategic Planning Tuesday afternoon and we have not yet received a response.