Scranton firefighters are talking about the impact layoffs had on their response to a major fire Monday in the city.
A house fire on the city’s west side was the first major fire since the city laid off 29 firefighters at the beginning of the year.
Firefighters in Scranton are running with a new set of rules because of reduced staffing and new mandates for safety. Monday’s devastating fire in west Scranton was a big test of how the fire department works now. Basically, firefighters have to work with fewer trucks and engines than they did before.
The double-block home on Swetland Street in Scranton was already an inferno by the time firefighters arrived Monday. It took two hours for them to get the flames under control.
Fire officials said trucks were at the scene within only five minutes. That response time wasn’t a problem, but the firefighters’ union representative said city leadership since 29 firefighters were laid off has been.
“It was chaotic from the get go. This is a new way that we operate and there hasn’t been much direction from the leadership at city hall or the chief’s office on how we’re now supposed to operate with such a limited amount of manpower,” said John Judge of the Scranton firefighters’ union.
The Swetland Street fire was the first major fire in the city since the layoffs went into effect in January and now firefighters are running with a new set of rules.
There are now 101 firefighters splitting four shifts, and there are new supreme court mandates that require more firefighters on an engine if some of them are off. If there are fewer than 23 on a shift, the department temporarily closes companies, called “brown outs.”
On average, there are 25 firefighters scheduled each shift. When a firefighter calls in sick or is on vacation, the department begins to temporarily close, or brown out, some companies. The first to close is Engine 7, which happens to be one of the closest to the Swetland Street fire.
Fire officials said the brown outs and limited staff would not have affected the outcome of this fire, but it did affect how many engines they had to fight it.
“One year ago, the same date and time we would have had six apparatus to respond as opposed to yesterday’s four, only then there would have been only three men on the apparatus, so the firefighter safety language has affected how we respond to fires,” said Scranton’s Deputy Fire Chief Allen Lucas.
None of the victims or any of the firefighters were hurt during Monday’s fire. You can find information on brown outs, including which companies close on any given day on the Scranton Fire Department website.