EYEWITNESS LOCAL NEWS13 New Firefighters/Paramedics To Join Charleston Fire Department
from Eyewitness News Online
Reported by: Leslie Rubin
Videographer: Troy Morgan
Web Producer: Leslie Rubin
Reported: Jul. 15, 2013 6:43 PM EDT
Updated: Jul. 16, 2013 5:01 AM EDT
Charleston , Kanawha County , West Virginia
Monday was day one for the largest group of incoming firefighters in the city of Charleston in more than a decade.
Inside the Charleston Fire Department Training Center, steps toward a bigger and stronger fire department are being taken.
"It's really been a hard process," explains Chief Chuck Overstreet.
A road of ups and downs for the department. Fighting public battles with the city over overtime and holiday pay, and watching their roster get smaller as members were retiring, but their positions remaining empty. Just two years ago the department staffed 198 firefighters and paramedics. Since then, Overstreet says they've lost 27 positions through attrition.
"We're trying to right it. Right the ship," he explains.
Thirteen recruits started day one of the 12-week training on Monday. They are the largest incoming group since Charleston EMS merged with the fire department in 1996.
"We are one of the only departments in the state that offers both fire and EMS. The only fire department I know of that runs their own ambulance service in the state," says Captain Darin Varig.
The chief says that's what makes filing spots at the department more difficult than others. Not only are they firefighters, but they are also paramedics. They say they have felt staff shortages recently more than ever.
"It allows us to fully staff our ambulances and maybe cut out some of the stress on the system from where, you know, paramedics were having to pull two shifts in a row or what not because we were short," says Varig.
Mayor Danny Jones says cuts were necessary to help pay police and fire pensions. He says the city's new half cent sales tax will help fund those in the future.
"It's going to help the Civic Center, but the Civic Center bonds will end some day. This half cent sales tax will do nothing by pay for these pensions," he says.
Relief for the rest of the department, as a new generation steps in.
"I think we have the most sophisticated service. First rate, first class. Whatever they think of me doesn't matter because they do a good job and in a fluid situation, I think, they are the best," says Jones.
Two of the new members are from West Virginia. The rest are from out of state, but all have paramedic experience.
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