Lynchburg firefighters raise concerns over staffing, pay

LYNCHBURG, Va. (WDBJ7)-- In the last 18 years, 25 percent more people have called Lynchburg home. As population continues to grow, the Lynchburg Fire Department hasn't.

"There has been no addition of manpower whatsoever here in the fire department,” said Jamie Maxwell, President of the Lynchburg Firefighters Association.

The LFD is currently budgeted for 176 uniformed staff and it has been at about that same staff number since the 1980s.

According to Maxwell, that needs to change.

"We need another full time medic unit which is about 9 personnel,” said Maxwell. “But with that, we need the pay to go along with it."

About 80 percent of all calls in the city are for Emergency Medical Services (EMS), but the full time medic units can't always handle all of the calls.

"Once a day they probably would come over the radio to say, ‘Hey, we don't have a medic unit available,” said Chief Greg Wormser.

According to Wormser, there are five full time medic units in the city and four reserve medic units. When all five medic units are in use, the department will take a fire engine out of service and staff a reserve medic unit instead.

This happens on average one or two times a day.

"So now you've lost an engine company to put a medic unit in service,” said Maxwell.

The fire department still maintains an average response time of about four to five minutes, but the firefighter association says it poses a risk.

Firefighters are also still being asked to work mandatory overtime shifts.

Last March, Chief Wormser directed battalion chiefs to mandate overtime hours so that the stations remain fully staffed. Before the directive some fire engines were taken out of service because of staffing problems. Across the department, there are one to two mandatory overtime shifts a month.

Wormser said that the city understands that the fire department needs more staff. City management allocated money for more positions during the last recruit academy, but the LFD is having trouble keeping people in the positions.

"When that experience walks out the door to serve another community that's going to hurt us. That’s going to hurt the citizens,” said Maxwell.

So far in 2019, they've already lost three people. The department expects to be down four uniform staff by summertime. Maxwell said a lot of people leave the department for better pay.

"We have made some strides in moving in the right direction. The city manager has done a great job at making sure that our benefits package and our salaries begin to increase,” said Wormser.

The association wants to see more change, though. They are launching a campaign to bring more awareness to the issue. Maxwell said he will be presenting to city council during the public hearing for the budget Tuesday April 2nd.

Wormser said that he has made it known since he became chief that he wants more staff and better pay, but that it can take time to develop a solution.

“We’re working on it. The city manager is working on it. She knows that I want another medic unit. She knows I want another ladder truck. She knows I want a new fire station,” said Wormser. “But she also knows the police department wants a new police station, the city schools wants a new elementary school. So we just got to figure out how to get it all done.”