Can reduced staffing impact Shelby Co firefighting? - FOX13 News, WHBQ FOX 13

Can reduced staffing impact Shelby Co firefighting?

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (FOX13) -

Ninety-percent of the time is how often the Shelby County Fire Department is staffing 3-man fire trucks.

They recently switched from four man crews to three man crews, to save $80,000 each month in overtime.

The department says reducing manpower isn't a problem because it doesn't affect response time, but could the move impact how swiftly crews attack the fire?

An official fire report from a recent fire on Richburg Street showed a problem that the response times were manually changed on the report to show all crews arrived at the same time.

But that didn't happen.

FOX13 News has learned the second crew arrived several minutes after the first crew responded, allowing the fire more time to spread.

FOX13 News questions have prompted an internal investigation into botched fire department reports.

Shelby County's fire dispatch recently received a 9-1-1 call after a fire sparked inside a Richburg Street home. A three-man firefighter crew arrived within a few minutes, but then called for more manpower.  

Unless life rescue is needed, federal regulations require four firefighters on the scene to enter a fire structure. As a safety precaution, firefighters to work in teams of two.

In this case, the crew needed a fourth man to attack the fire.   

The fourth man arrived six minutes after the first crew. However, this official fire report shows a different story.  

Despite the dispatch recording and a statement which notes the delay, the report says each crew arrived on the scene at the exact same minute.

FOX13 News has learned the report was manually changed. In fact, our inquiries led to the discovery of several more botched reports through an internal department investigation.
But the county fire union says Richburg Street's fire signals another problem.

"If we're staffed like we were supposed to be, with four men, they would've been able to make a more aggressive attack on the fire," said Danny Young, Shelby county Firefighter union President.

Despite four man crews for years, the administration recently moved to allow three-man crews to initially respond to fires to save firefighter overtime. In a previous FOX13 News interview, Public Words Director Tom Needham said three man crews would be the exception.

But five weeks later, three man crews are the norm-----

The Richburg Street fire happened just five days after the policy change.  Between the dispatch call and second crew's arrival, 11 minutes lapsed.

Young said the Richburg Street case shows reduced manpower hurts response times for entering fires. While the department says each crew responded in a timely manner, young says waiting for a second crew allows the fire to quickly  spread.

"Within 60 seconds a fire can double in size," Young said. "We're talking about six minutes on this fire, the fire would more than quadruple."

The family of five who once rented the home would not go on camera but say they watched the fire spread while the first crew waited for more manpower to arrive. The fire destroyed nearly everything they owned.
"The homes damage would be the same regardless whether had three man crew there or not, cause if a four man crew would've still had to connect to water supply to go in," Needham said.

Needham argues the first crew failed to follow proper procedure. He says they called dispatch for backup, before they were ready to attack the fire.  

"It takes five to seven minutes to prepare to enter a building, and a three man crew makes that preparation and this three man crew we had on this particular fire, for lack of training did not make the proper preparation," Needham said.

"Them waiting on the second engine company to lay a supply is not uncommon," Young added.

FOX13 News has learned the Richburg case sparked an internal memo which breaks down proper protocol for three man crews who first arrive on the scene. But Young says the new policy should be eliminated altogether.

"They've got by this, got away with this running three man engine companies, by the skin of their teeth, that nobody has gotten seriously hurt," he said.

While the department says they don't plan to change their staffing policy, they do expect their investigation into those botched reports to wrap up quickly. The county would not say the type of disciplinary action the violators could face.    

The department says they've assigned additional training for the firefighter who called backup, without first completing proper procedure. Needham says the investigation into botched reports may lead to new computer software, which could help prevent manual changes.

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