WPCNA Meeting Heats Up Fire House Staffing Issue

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Representatives of the White Plains Fire Department spoke about the need for increased staffing at the Feb 15 WPCNA meeting

By Dandre Chery-Richards – On Wednesday night the White Plains Council of Neighborhood Associations (WPCNA) held its monthly meeting, inviting the White Plains Professional Firefighters of the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) Local 274 to speak. With over 60 people in attendance, alerted to the meeting by online announcements, the fire department brought to attention staffing issues they have been fighting over 10 years.

“We (the fire department) are in unison that things have to change for the better,” said Kevin Clampet Secretary Treasurer of the White Plains Firefighters Union.

Currently the White Plains Fire Department operates with a total of 137 firefighters. In 2003 the fire department ran 169 firefighters deep. Due to downsizing, firetruck ladder 34 was shut down 316 days in 2016 and 25 days so far in 2017.

“I was amazed to find out the ladder truck that protects our area was shut down so much of the time,” resident Barbara Moach said.

A record of over 4,300 fire alarms were responded to by the fire department in 2016. The number of alarms increased 30 percent compared to 2003.

Last month the fire department responded to the 203 Mamaroneck Avenue fire. Despite arriving within two minutes of the call, they had to call on neighboring fire departments for backup.

“This fire wasn’t major and we were screaming for help,” Vice President of the Union, Kevin Heffernan said.

No civilians were hurt in the apartment fire but one fireman suffered a leg injury. The families of the apartment building have been displaced for the time being.

“Everybody does a lot of talking about first responders and we screw them over and it’s wrong,” Moach said.

After trying to speak with government officials about the issue, the fire department is now being more vocal about being understaffed. They plan to continue their social media campaign and speak to other neighborhood associations as well.

“Just because we can get the job done doesn’t mean we are completely (equipped) to get the job done,” Union Executive Board Trustee, Kris Eifler said. “We are not operating safely compared to other departments in this country and according to other standards of firefighting.”

The Insurance Services Offices (ISO) grades the White Plains Fire Department at class 1 the highest of all ratings. According to Heffernan, during the ISO’s last evaluation they did not step into one firehouse. Eifler suggests, the ISO rating is inflated and the department doesn’t meet the criteria of OSHA and PESH standards.

“There’s so much going on in the city and so much development but there’s really no risk assessment on how it will affect the infrastructure of the city and the safety of the people who live here,” resident Ellen Berger said.

Not in attendance were any of the officials familiar with the issue, including Deputy Commissioner of Public Safety James M. Bradley and Fire Bureau Chief Richard Lyman. WPCNA Co-President Todd Gordon said the WPCNA would like them to have their own forum and get their side of the story.

Bradley recently stated that the city would hire 12 new members to the fire department on March 10. But the fire department insists this is not a full complement of firefighters. That number would be 169 firefighters similar to the number they had in 2003.

“Over the last 10 years we have been very lucky to not have lost any citizens or firefighters,” Eifler said. ”Our main goal is to protect lives and we feel that goal is in jeopardy because of the way we operate.”

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