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WFD parks ladder truck Sunday for lack of staff

For the second time in as many days, a fire truck in Clark County has been parked because there weren’t enough firefighters to staff it.

Winchester Fire-EMS had to park, or brown out, its ladder truck Sunday because of a lack of available manpower. The truck was moved and parked behind Station 1 downtown, so it would still be accessible if needed.

“We have tried to do everything in our power to keep it from happening,” Winchester Fire-EMS Chief Cathy Rigney said Sunday. “Right now, it’s just for this shift. It can be subject to change at any time.”

On Saturday, Clark County Fire Department had to brown out its Engine 2 for the same reason: lack of available staff.

Both departments have struggled with attracting new employees and retaining the ones they have.

“We need staff,” Rigney said. “I think recruiting and retaining is the key. We need to figure out as a city and a department how to make us as attractive as we can.”

Winchester Professional Firefighters Local 1807 posted about both brown outs on social media this weekend.

WPF member Ethan Brogli said firefighters have been working overtime to try to cover the gaps themselves.

“We’re working ourselves up to 120 hours at a time just to staff apparatus,” Brogli said.

“You can only work a 120-hour week so much,” WPF President Jonathan Beam said.

Winchester Fire-EMS has about a dozen vacant positions currently, including six recently-created EMS positions to cover additional run volume.

The situation means if an emergency were to happen, the department would not be at full strength.

“As a member of the populace of Winchester, it puts me on edge that apparatus won’t be responding to calls,” Brogli said. “If we have a structure fire, we’re going without that apparatus and four firefighters.

“No matter how short staffed we are, we are going to do the job.”

Rigney shares the concern.

“It worries me as a fire chief for the safety of our community and our firefighters,” Rigney said. “It worries me about the safety of all involved.”

In 2017, the city’s ladder truck was vital in saving three people from an upper story, downtown structure fire.

In September, Rigney presented a plan to the Winchester Board of Commissioners which included parking trucks or closing stations if minimum staff was not available. It also eliminated mandatory overtime.

“Even as short-staffed as we are, (the firefighters) have worked well above and beyond,” Rigney said. “We were afraid of this day… But it caught up to us.”

Whether trucks are browned out again will remain a day-to-day decision, Rigney said.

“We’ve opened it up to our part-time and full-time personnel,” she said. “We’ll do everything in our power to keep it up and running.”

All sides acknowledge the situation is complex, and quick fixes have not ben found. Interest in the profession seems to have reduced, and competition for paramedics from the private sector has grown as well. Salaries are another issue, between neighboring departments and the private sector as well.

“We just want it addressed on both a city and county basis,” Brogli said. “It’s not because of the wants of the firefighters, it’s the needs of the city and county and need to keep the apparatus staffed. We want to work alongside the city and county on these issues. We as the union want to come up with solutions.”

About Fred Petke

Fred Petke is a reporter for The Winchester Sun. His beats include cops, courts, fire, public records, city and county government and other news. To contact Fred, email fred.petke@winchestersun.com or call 859-759-0051.

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