After a second big fire in Scranton this week Mayor Chris Doherty has done an about face and will rehire the firefighters laid off at the start of the year.
The big change of mind comes hours after a destructive fire that officials admit could have been better handled with more firefighters on the job.
A dozen Scranton firefighters laid off at the beginning of the year will soon be back on the job.
City leaders said if more firefighters were on the scene of a fire early Friday morning the destruction would have been less.
Scranton’s fire Engine 10 is the only station covering east mountain. It’s been closed for more than a year now, but leaders from the city and the fire department said now it’s too risky to keep it closed.
Starting Saturday the station will be reopened and 12 laid off firefighters will be back on the force.
The flames started in the Sodano family’s garage, then spread to the house on Froude Avenue in Scranton’s east mountain. A neighbor called 911 and then they waited 10 minutes until the first fire truck arrived.
“The first arrival engine company is the most important. So yes, it probably would have made a difference. The fire was a hot fire. It was going pretty well,” said Fire Chief Tom Davis.
He added the extensive damage to the house could have been prevented if firefighters had arrived within five minutes, which is always the goal.
The chief said since 29 firefighters were laid off at the beginning of the year, east mountain is the most difficult part of the city to cover. Its fire station, Engine 10, has been closed for more than a year and there are fewer available trucks elsewhere in the city.
“Those girls could have died, and Engine 10 three minutes away, four minutes tops. It’s less than a mile away,” said Bob Barry.
The fire on Froude Avenue was a final straw, prompting Scranton’s mayor and the firefighters’ union to make some changes.
Twelve laid-off firefighters will be re hired, Engine 10 on east mountain will reopen permanently, and two more trucks will be available and will rotate around the entire city because the union has agreed to relax safety restrictions allowing fewer men per truck.
“Knowing that I was one of the 12 coming back it was a huge weight lifted off of my shoulders for myself and my family and quite frankly the rest of the citizens of the city,” said Jack Gaffney, one of the rehired firefighters.
On Monday a fire on Sweatland Street displaced 13 people. It was the first big fire in Scranton since the layoffs of 29 firefighters went into effect late last year. The flames spread to Mike Conforti’s home next door who criticized the response time.
“If it’s from layoffs or whatever, it’s from, it has something to do with whatever has gone on in this city because the response was horrible,” Conforti told Newswatch 16 back on Monday.
“Finally after all the preaching we`ve been doing after the last couple of months they finally came to the realization the city saw that the way that we were being staffed was ineffective and affecting the safety of the citizens of Scranton,” said John Judge, the president of the Scranton firefighters union.
Mayor Doherty said the rehires will be paid for this year with money the city saved on plowing this winter, but for the years ahead he is hoping to secure a federal grant.
“The response time last night was unacceptable, so we have to make changes, and that’s part of our job as leadership of this city. We have to make sure we provide for the health and welfare of the people. This is the people’s city. This was the right thing to do. We’re happy to do it together,” Doherty said.
The mayor added the 12 firefighters will start work as early as Saturday, and Engine 10 will be back in operation by Monday. The firefighters were sworn in again late Friday afternoon.