Lexington Fire Chief: Brownouts Will Continue Through 2014

Reported by: Amanda Stevenson
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Updated: 12/03/2012 7:22 pm
The Lexington fire chief said firetrucks would continue being browned out until at least 2014 Monday.

The Lexington fire union said brownouts--or firetrucks being taken out of service due to lack of staffing--have been an issue for the past year.

Firefighters said they're understaffed--their authorized strength is 536, but (as of this writing) they're at 499.

Fire Chief Keith Jackson said the number they really need is even higher--545.

The president of the fire union, Chris Bartley, said the lack of staffing is unacceptable.

"We're done with hopefully and maybe. We've got to have, 'We've got the numbers, we've got the money ,' to get definite. And we've gotta get...get those done," he said in response to the possibility of being fully staffed by 2014.

However, according to the chief, even the possibility of 2014 is just that: a possibility.

Fire administration said potential firefighters have a long process to go through before they even get to class: 1) an initial background check and interview; 2) a more comprehensive background check; 3) having their name submitted to the Lexington-Fayette Urban County council (who must then offer a conditional offer of employment); 4) a psychological check; and 5) a physical.

"We want the best of the best," said Chief Jackson.

According to Jackson, classes take 18 weeks.

A class of firefighters is scheduled to be ready for duty in March--another class is supposed to begin in April 2013. That class wouldn't graduate until September.

And every January, firefighters that qualify can retire--which means more hiring becomes necessary.

"We're still going to have brownouts and then you have more retirements...and it's just a cyclical thing that seems to not be ending," said Bartley.

The closest firetruck to the burning home on Clays Mill Road Sunday was confirmed by fire officials to be browned out at the time.

The rolling brownouts cause unease for both parties--they said they worry for their coworkers' safety, as well as that of the community.

"It's critical that we have numbers. Our response, our ability to care for the city and community is based on our numbers," said Chief Jackson.

Plus, said Bartley, "It's a very dangerous job, and we've had a couple firefighters hurt in the last couple fires. I mean, it's a dangerous job."
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