Tulsa Fire Department concerned lack of manpower will affect amount of time it takes to fight fires

Posted at 12:56 PM, Aug 11, 2016
and last updated 2016-08-12 04:24:06-04

TULSA - The Tulsa Fire Department is worried it won't be able to make up for its lack of manpower like it has in the past. 

The department is allowed 675 people, and it's built to function within ten above or below that number. Right now, the force has about 645 people. 

Tulsa Fire Department Public Information Officer Captain Stan May said the lack of manpower is starting to have negative effects on emergencies in the community, and within the department itself.

"The biggest thing it affects is how long it takes to do the task once we get there whether it's a rescue, extrication, house fire," May said. "And each individual firefighter is expected to do more until we can get more help there." 

May said firefighters work harder to make up for the holes in staffing, leading to more injuries. 

He said the department is used to having some sort of shortage in the summer, because that's when most firefighters retire. The difference this time is the department can't afford to hire a class to fill in the spots like it usually would. It's funded through the city's sales tax.

The shortage is seen, for example, on trucks responding to fires.

Tulsa fire abides by the safety standards set by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). One of its standards states, "Fire companies whose primary functions are to pump and deliver water and perform basic fire fighting at fires ... shall be staffed with a minimum of four on-duty personnel." 

Tulsa can only afford to have three on a truck, which is a concern the department brought to the city. City Counselor Karen Gilbert said the city is working to improve with money from the Vision Sales Tax. 

"It’s not going to happen overnight. And it’s [just] like, we’re not going to be able to put 160 additional police officers out on the street as well." Gilbert said. "So, it’s going to take time, but we’re going to get there. That’s our goal, is to get those additional firefighters and make sure we get those four to a truck."

She estimated it will be accomplished in five years. 

In the meantime, the Tulsa Fire Department has applied for a federal grant that would allow for them to hire 27 firefighters to train and add to the force within five months. It's still waiting on the status of the grant. 

Without the grant the department can't hire new firefighters until January when it gets money from its portion of the city's budget. May estimates that after more retirements this year, the department will be down about 50 people by then, without the grant. 

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