Firefighters assail layoffs as dangerous for Warren

Firefighters Protest

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By Ed Runyan

WARREN — Firefighters marched in front of City Hall to protest cuts in staffing that some firefighters say led to the critical injuries to a Warren police officer and three residents in a group-home fire Tuesday morning.

But according to a transcript of communications within the Warren Fire Department that morning and National Fire Protection Association guidelines, another problem was the time it took firefighters to leave the fire station.

The transcript says the 911 call that the fire department received from a newspaper carrier alerting them to the fire came at about 3:24 a.m.

The caller told the dispatcher about 29 seconds into the call that the fire was on Bonnie Brae Avenue. The caller didn’t know the address, so a police officer at the scene informed the 911 dispatcher 44 seconds into the call that it was 368 Bonnie Brae.

According to a police 911 call log, Patrolman Doug Hipple had kicked in the front door to the burning house, went inside to rescue the three residents, came back downstairs with them and discovered the exit was blocked — all within two or three minutes.

“Tell them [the fire department] to step it up. We can’t get out,” Hipple said over his portable radio at 3:26 a.m.

The fire department log shows that two firetrucks and a fire department command vehicle didn’t leave the South Street fire station until about 1 minute 22 seconds after that — about 3 minutes 12 seconds after the 911 call first reached the fire station.

After Hipple uttered a sound into his portable radio that sounded as if he were in distress, Patrolman Christopher Martin called out on his portable radio: “We need the FD [fire department] here now.”

Firefighters were leaving the station at about that time.

Fire Chief Ken Nussle said there was one delay associated with the 911 caller’s not knowing where she was. But calls to the fire station are broadcast to all firefighters in the station, and once they hear that there’s a fire and get an idea of the location, they mobilize, he said.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, the goal of firefighters is to leave a fire station within one minute of receiving an alarm. The organization says it’s reasonable to give the dispatch center another minute to identify the location of the fire from the caller.

After that, fire departments should strive to reach a fire call within four minutes, the association says. The goal is to reach the fire in six minutes, the association says.

It took the Warren Fire Department a total of 6 minutes 3 seconds to arrive at the scene, the fire department log says.

Nussle said the department generally met the NFPA guidelines when it had all three stations open most of the time. He’s not so sure they always meet those guidelines anymore.

It took 2 minutes 51 seconds for the two firetrucks to reach the fire from the South Street fire station.

Nussle said the main fire station on South Street is about one mile farther from the fire than the fire station on Atlantic Street. It takes a firetruck between one and two minutes to drive one mile in the middle of the night, Nussle said.

Marc Titus, a firefighter and president of the local firefighters union, said Wednesday morning he thought having the Atlantic Street fire station closed slowed response by three to four minutes.

The Atlantic Street station, which is less than a half-mile from the fire, was closed all but one day in April because of the 11 fire department layoffs that occurred Jan. 1 and because of vacations and sick leave.

The department’s other fire station on Parkman Road was open 13 of the 30 days in April, Nussle said.

The log shows that Hipple was rescued from the second floor of the home at 3:40 a.m. — about 10 minutes after firetrucks arrived. The two women in the home were rescued within the next four minutes, and the third woman was rescued about two minutes after that.

About 100 firefighters from about 15 fire departments, some from as far away as Chillicothe, participated in the Friday rally that ended at City Hall.

They carried signs saying “Stop the lies,” “Needs vs. wants,” and “Do your job.” The firefighters also took out a full-page advertisement in a local newspaper, saying the layoff of 15 firefighters (including four vacancies that were not filled) and 20 police officers was unfair because it relied too heavily on cuts to safety forces.

In response, Mayor Michael O’Brien said the previous layoffs and need for $1.6 million more in cuts are necessary because of the job losses that have hit the city.

O’Brien said the average cost of a Warren firefighter (the average of all fire department employees except the fire chief) is $90,887 per year — $58,958 in wages and $31,929 in benefits.

O’Brien said additional measures to trim the budget will be “evenly distributed” across all nonrevenue-generating departments in the city.

The Akron Children’s Hospital Burn Center, where all four victims of Tuesday’s fire were taken, said the condition of the three women remained critical Friday. They are Sheree Egry, 53, Donna Cassidy, 52, and Melissa Watson, 44. The hospital is not giving out information on Hipple, but his brother said Thursday he was still in critical condition.

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