House Fires Spread Firefighters Thin; Union President: 'We're Be - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

House Fires Spread Firefighters Thin; Union President: 'We're Beyond A Breaking Point'

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Monday morning, Spokane firefighters responded to two active house fires that broke out within a couple of hours – and miles – of each other, stretching city crews thin. Monday morning, Spokane firefighters responded to two active house fires that broke out within a couple of hours – and miles – of each other, stretching city crews thin.
SPOKANE, Wash. -

Monday morning, Spokane firefighters responded to two active house fires that broke out within a couple of hours – and miles – of each other, stretching city crews thin.

The first destroyed a single-story home on North Stone just before 4:00 a.m., while the second ripped through the back of a duplex just two miles away near Denver & Jackson around 6:00 a.m.

"My trusty neighbor called me and said your place is burning," Mike Taitch told KHQ's Kelsey Watts at the home on Stone.

Fire crews believe the fire there started because of old electrical wiring in the attic. Luckily, nobody lived at the home, but Taitch used it to store equipment for his business, Hearthstone Lawn Maintenance.

"I lost a $100,000 building," he added. "It's bad but it's not the end of the world, I just have to pick up the pieces and go from here."

At the second fire down the street, three people got out of the burning duplex on Denver & Jackson safely and are being helped by the Red Cross. However, their dog didn't survive.

That fire broke out next door to an arson that was set over the summer. An ATF investigator was called out to help Spokane Fire determine the cause, which has yet to be identified.

Between the two blazes, more than 2/3 of city crews were tied up. It's a situation IAFF Local 29 President Don Waller says happens more often than citizens may realize.

"As we get spread thin, that means the response to every next call takes longer and is getting less efficient," Waller told KHQ's Kelsey Watts, adding that we need 30-40% more fire staff to be at optimal levels.

Waller says back in 1999, there were 69 firefighters on duty in a given day in Spokane. But in 2013? It's 58 – the lowest on record since the 1950's, despite a city growing by size and population and the number of service calls increasing by the thousands.

"I would say we were at the breaking point a couple years ago," he added. "We're past the breaking point now, we're broken. We need at least a little fix fast."

Waller said adding 10 firefighters on duty a day would be a vast improvement, but based on our size and population, a total of up to 100 per day would be ideal.

But Spokane Fire Chief Bobby Williams knows that won't happen.

"There isn't a Chief in the country who wouldn't want to be fully funded and have a fire station on every corner," Williams told KHQ's Kelsey Watts. "But that's not the reality of our budget."

Williams explained that adding even 10 firefighters on duty per day would require hiring roughly 36 firefighters to cover all shifts. With an average salary of $100,000 that equates to an extra $3.6 million dollars a year that simply doesn't exist.

Williams said the fastest growth in service calls is medical. To help address those calls for service, the city is testing the use of "ARU's" or alternative response units. The smaller rigs can respond to medical calls while saving engines and ladder trucks for fire emergencies. The test runs through mid-March when the performance and savings of the ARU's will be evaluated.

Spokane Mayor David Condon added this statement:

"We continue to exceed our response time targets for fire and life-threatening incidents, even as we evolve our emergency response model to meet the changing needs of our citizens. Medical calls have risen steadily over the past three decades while the fire call volume has remained steady. The changing demand requires that we pursue innovative solutions, such as using smaller vehicles to respond to non-life-threatening calls for service, to increase the flexibility of the fire department and improve public safety.

The Fire Service Task Force took a comprehensive look over several months at how we provide fire and emergency medical services to our citizens. They recommended among other things using the alternative response vehicles, restoring firefighting capability to Station 9 on the South Hill and formalizing our agreement with Fire District 3 to provide fire coverage to the Eagle Ridge neighborhood. We have implemented all of those recommendations and a team meets weekly to discuss how to implement additional recommendations."

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