PETERSBURG, Va. (WRIC) — The City of Petersburg is answering questions after one of its fire stations closed temporarily over the weekend due to a staffing issue.
A spokesperson for the city said two staffers called in sick over the weekend, forcing the Johnson Road station, which needs at least three firefighters on duty, to close its doors while it waited for replacements.
That same spokesperson claimed the issue was resolved within five hours. However, inside sources tell 8News the station was vacant for 24 hours on Saturday, Sept. 24, and until 6 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 25.
The city dismissed those claims.
The Petersburg Professional Fire Fighters Association (PPFFA) sounded the alarm about the closure on its Facebook page with a picture of the firehouse with the bold word “CLOSED.” The post prompted concern from residents like Javonni Brustow, who lives nearby.
“It’s definitely not good…in a city of wooden homes,” Brustow said. “I’ve had multiple people from the department tell me there is concern. I think you should be concerned.”
James Vick, the PPFFA President, echoed those concerns and pointed the finger at the city. In a statement to 8News, he wrote: “Whenever any city fire station is shut down, emergency response times increase to neighborhoods and businesses in that station’s district. The Petersburg Professional Fire Fighters Association urges all residents and business owners to tell city leaders to stop gambling with the safety of our community.”
Joanne Williams, a spokesperson for Petersburg, said the city is actively working to fill positions.
“Chief Watkins has developed a plan to create an open process to recruit entry-level people having the desire to work and grow into professional firefighters to serve Petersburg,” Williams said. “The open process will allow the city to fill vacant firefighter positions while preparing for retirement of personnel and promotions.”
She also explained that the Walnut Hill and Market Street Fire Stations served as backups during the closure, and added that assistance from surrounding localities is always available.
Currently, the entire city is staffing 33 firefighters.
There is a job fair scheduled to recruit firefighters on Oct. 8 at Petersburg Public Library, located at 201 West Washington Street, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.