PETERSBURG, Va. (WRIC) — The Petersburg Fire Department is operating with a limited number of fire engines, with at least one of the vehicles in its fleet still out of service as of Tuesday afternoon.
The department’s usual four fire engines were temporarily reduced on Friday. A spokesperson for the City Of Petersburg told 8News that there were no less than two engines in service, with one facing repairs that have been delayed due to supply chain shortages and the other removed from service amid an inspection by the Office of Emergency Services (OEMS). However, Scott Spencer, a retired firefighter and representative for the Petersburg Firefighters Association said that the department was operating with just one fire engine for a matter of hours on Friday.
“One was removed from service due to [a] mechanical issue, and a second one was, we have learned, that an official from the Virginia Office of EMS arrived at a fire station, and we don’t know if they requested voluntarily or mandated that the city remove that vehicle from [the] line of service,” Spencer said. “They were able to procure another firefighting engine from the City of Colonial Heights.”
When 8News went to Petersburg on Tuesday, a fire engine labeled Colonial Heights was still visible from Fire Station 4.
Spencer also said that because the department had limited trucks on Friday, fire companies were using ambulances for transport. However, a spokesperson for the city told 8News that at no point was the department using ambulances in place of fire trucks, and that it is not uncommon for ambulances to accompany fire companies to emergencies for additional assistance.
“Over the past couple weeks, on certain days, the city’s firefighting fleet has been depleted,” Spencer said. “If they arrive at a fire on an ambulance, they are lacking water, ladders, tools and hoses to be able to begin firefighting efforts. That can make a lifesaving difference, especially if their backup help or their assistance is delayed.”
Joanne Williams with the City of Petersburg said that not having all of the locality’s fire engines in service has not impacted the fire department’s ability to respond to emergencies. She noted that on Saturday, Petersburg firefighters handled a fire incident in the city, and then did the same on Sunday, while also responding to a call for mutual aid assistance from Prince George.
Williams also said that any of the city’s vehicles that were due for inspection by the end of this month have already been scheduled for service.
Spencer told 8News that emergency vehicles in Virginia, such as fire engines, must be inspected annually.
“A vehicle weighing upwards of 30 tons needs to be mechanically sound when it’s operated on streets for the protection of our members and the other motorists on the roadway,” he said. “The city should make known the deficiencies in the fire department.”
8News saw firsthand Petersburg firefighting vehicles sitting in a lot of a service center Tuesday afternoon.
The Office of Emergency Services confirmed that the investigation into the Petersburg Fire Department began last Tuesday, May 31.
“The only vehicle that we’re aware of that had a deficient inspection date on it expired in April of 2022, and it was still being used on the road into the month of May,” Spencer said.
Williams said that the fire engine taken out of service for the expired inspection sticker was done so on Friday, but that it had already been scheduled for an inspection appointment on Monday. She also noted that the fire engine was expected to be back in service by Tuesday.
City documents show that the budget for Fire Rescue & Emergency Services vehicle repairs has been unchanged since the 2020-21 fiscal year. Overall, the department’s adopted budget increased by $51,578 from FY 2020 to FY 2021; and by $304,570 from FY 2021 to FY 2022.
“Fires burn more intensely and quicker with modern construction and modern furnishings, and time is of the essence,” Spencer said. “Our members should arrive and be able to initiate a firefighting effort to minimize damage and to be able to effect rescues of trapped occupants.”