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Commissioner Raises Concerns About Covington Fire Staffing Levels

After Covington's second fatal fire of 2013, City Commissioner Michelle Williams and members of the Eastside Neighborhood Association argue that more firefighters need to be hired.

The city reduced the department's daily manpower from 30 to 27 in 2011 and put a pumper out of service to save money, part of former Mayor Chuck Scheper's plan that helped place the city on better financial footing.

That "browned out" pumper was closest to a home on Garrard Street that burned on March 11, killing Joan Herron, 67. Her visitation is Wednesday at 6:00 p.m. at the Robbins Street Christian Church where a funeral service follows.

Commissioner Williams and Eastside leader Bennie Doggett spoke to WCPO Tuesday, as did City Manager Larry Klein and City Solicitor Frank Warnock. Local 38, the Covington firefighters union, was represented in the news by president Chris Black.

From WCPO:

"At 30 we were bare bones minimum," said Covington Firefighters Union Local #38 President Chris Black. "Right now, we are at dangerous staffing levels." 

However, Black wouldn't speculate what might have happened if Pumper #1 weren't browned out. 

"I can't say for certain that Engine #1 being in service would have saved Miss Herron's life," he said. "What I can tell you is the first-in engine was one minute behind the first-in companies and the U.S. Fire Protection Administration has done studies that show fire doubles in size every minute."

Herron called 911 herself the morning of March 11 and uttered the words "help me" to a dispatcher before the line went dead. 

Since no fire was initially reported, Covington police were notified to respond. Officers reportedly saw heavy smoke billowing from the house as they approached. 

"The initial call was that police officers were on scene unable to gain access to the structure due to the intense flames and smoke," said Covington Fire Chief Dan Mathew.

Williams plans to raise the issue of hiring more firefighters at the next city commission meeting on Tuesday. It is not expected to have majority support on the 5-member commission.

See the video report:

Photo: A sign on a Covington Fire Department pumper after brownout was announced in October 2011/RCN file

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