City considers options to relieve fire staffing shortages
Fire officials will relax their training schedule for several months to give Lexington more boots on the streets until late summer, when training of a new fire class will be complete, adding 25 firefighters to the force.
“Right now, between retirements, training requirements, vacation time, and a tight budget, it’s a big challenge,” said Clay Mason, Commissioner of Public Safety. “We need more firefighters – that’s why we have a class in training now, and why the Mayor put two more classes in his proposed budget. That will take care of us in the long-run. But we also need relief in the short-run.”
In addition, fire officials have reduced the class training period by two weeks to expedite training for the new recruits, while still meeting the mandatory minimum required by state and federal guidelines.
Limited use of additional overtime is also under consideration, Mason said.
Mason said when faced with staffing shortages, the city has taken pieces of equipment out of service for several hours or an entire day. “That was adequate until the training schedule intensified,” Mason said. Ongoing training is required for all firefighters. “Now we have absences that are related to vacations, absences related to training and, of course, absences related to illness and other concerns. When taken together this has meant we have had several pieces of equipment out of service at the same time. We plan to adjust going forward.”
Mason said he understands citizens’ concerns with the staffing shortages. “We don’t like the situation we’re in,” he said. “But we can’t afford the millions in runaway over-time expenses that characterized our Division of Fire and Emergency Services in the previous administration.”
Interim Fire Chief Keith Jackson said, “Our Division of Fire and Emergency Services sets the highest standards in its policies and practices. We want to offer the best care for Lexington citizens. But we also recognize that we must live within our budget. Adjusting the training schedule will not compromise care and it will improve our ability to keep all equipment staffed.”