FLORENCE, AL (WAFF) - A Shoals firefighter said his city has gone too long without proper equipment to protect the community.
Florence is struggling to keep firetrucks on the road because many of them keep breaking down. In a day, Florence usually sees anywhere from 15 to 30 calls with a city population of 50,000.
This firefighter wants to remain anonymous for fear of losing his job but wants the truth told. He hopes by sharing what's really going on inside, the department will bring change not only for his other brothers at the stations but for the safety of his city.
"It makes it tough to come to work and do your job when you don't have the equipment to come do it with," said the veteran Florence firefighter.
He currently works for the department. He said for the last three weeks most of the stations haven't been equipped with fire trucks. For parts of this week, Station 3 and Station 2 had only sport utility vehicles. Station 3 was without a firetruck for three days, which is in the center of the city and protects the University of North Alabama. Station 2 has been without a firetruck for over two weeks.
"The public has been mislead. To say that our response times have not been affected and say that we have had adequate trucks to cover our stations is misleading. We have plenty of men in the station but we don't have the trucks to put them on," the firefighter said.
Florence has five stations scattered across the city. Multiple trucks have broken down at the same time forcing them to move around the few trucks they have left.
"We were down to two engines, a ladder truck and a rescue truck. One house fire would have everything tied up. A second house fire, we would have nothing to respond, even a dumpster fire, a car fire, a car wreck, a medical call, anything would have depleted us below our minimal response for one house fire," he said.
Mayor Steve Holt and Fire Chief Jeff Perkins have assured the city that the other stations can respond to emergencies or call for mutual aid from surrounding fire departments.
"The amount of time it takes to respond a truck from a secondary station could mean the difference between someone making it out of a house alive or dead," the firefighter said.
The city's plan for now is to lease trucks from another department to give the mechanic more time to fix their fleet.
"We asked that question 'Do you need help right now,' and he said, 'No, what I need is to keep each of these trucks in the maintenance shop until I can do everything with them,'" Holt said.
The city used to have a secondary mechanic but that position was cut as well as a deputy chief position that oversaw the maintenance and conditions of the stations and trucks.
"if they had kept with the replacement plan that had been laid out from prior administration we would not be in this situation," the firefighter said.
A plan that replaced trucks every three years, but they haven't seen a new truck in seven years.
"It doesn't have anything to do with fault. It just has to do with the trucks having some issues right now, and it came all at once. We run these trucks every day and we have five stations that are all covered right now, and we'll keep going," Holt said.
"The current administration has neglected to worry about what's coming in the future and only worried about the day-to-day, and if you're not planning for the future when you have a half a million dollar trucks to replace, you get caught with your pants down like we have now," the firefighter said.
The fire department has been down to one reserve truck for over a year.
A firefighter from another city but who lives in Florence says he's noticed the firetrucks missing.
"A lot of my neighbors have been coming to me and business owners asking me, saying, 'You're a firefighter. Explain this to us. What's really going on?'" said Philip Williams.
Williams said he went to fire chief with his concerns but doesn't feel like he was heard.
"It's all about accountability and the public and public safety. When you dial 911 when your house is on fire, you expect to see a firetruck show up," Williams said. "I feel uneasy for the whole community."
Although the brave Florence firefighter said their department is limited, they'll do all that they can.
"I think most of the city leaders are way out of touch with what is really going on in our department. The city leaders can only go by what is brought to them by the department head, and currently our department head is really out of touch with what is going on with our department," he said.
Another message from this firefighter is he hopes people pay better attention to their closest fire station and see if there is a fire truck or SUV in its place. If so, take extreme fire caution.
The mayor said the leased trucks should be in by Friday and would be up and running by the weekend.
The city does plan to buy two new trucks, but those won't be on the roads until another year.
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