Goose Creek Fire Department ‘facing a staffing crisis’

Published: Aug. 1, 2022 at 4:00 PM EDT
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GOOSE CREEK, S.C. (WCSC) - There are about 48,000 people in Goose Creek according to the census estimate in February 2022. Right now, only 11 fire fighters are staffed to serve this many people from Goose Creek Fire Department.

The Professional Fire Fighters Association of South Carolina held a press conference at Goose Creek City Hall about the staffing shortage.

Roger Odachowski, the president of the Professional Fire Fighters Association of South Carolina, says Goose Creek Fire Department is facing a staffing crisis. As of February 17, 2022, the union says the station has about 8,200 calls per year. He says only 11 fire fighters can respond to this many calls from the Goose Creek Fire Department.

To put this in perspective, Odachowski says you need about 25-30 fire fighters to cover an average structure fire. He says last month, there was over 5,600 overtime hours logged from the current fire fighters working at Goose Creek. He says he’s never seen anything like this working on the front line or in his leadership with the association.

Franklin Johnson from the city of Goose Creek says their estimate for the number of overtime hours in July was approximately 3,000. He says there are 18 current vacancies, and eight hires that are scheduled to start between now and September that will cut that number to ten.

Odachowski says he’s been contacting the fire chiefs and Mayor Gregory Habib since February about this, but no one has responded and is willing to sit down and talk.

“The chief said it was due to COVID,” Odachowski said. “City officials said it’s because of this, it’s because of that, it’s because of this. We are here because the firefighters of Goose Creek are truly concerned about the safety of its citizens and it’s continuing to be ignored. We need the board to do something before it causes a fatality because that would be on them.”

“The citizens, 48,000 citizens sure, should be able to, with their tax dollars, be able to put out a fire in their own house without asking for neighboring departments,” Odachowski said.

The other men from the association that stood behind Odachowski at the press conference were affiliated with the neighboring departments. They say no one from Goose Creek Fire Department was present due to fear of retaliation.

Zack Jawish is affiliated with North Charleston Professional Fire Fighters Association, and he says having so few people working with no one able to stand by for backup makes for a huge safety issue.

“We stood outside for a press conference today and the heat was pretty draining,” Jawish said. “If you’re looking at putting these guys in their gear and running to a fire, you’re only having some days 11 personnel doing minimum staffing and that’s with the rescue browned out right now.”

Odachowski says he’s been contacting the fire chiefs and Mayor Gregory Habib since February about this, but no one has responded and is willing to sit down and talk.

“I think we’ve waited long enough,” Odachowski said. “Six months is a long time for this to continue to go on without any progress. You know, any testing, any whatever. So, so that’s why we’re here today. And, you know, we don’t want to come off as the aggressor, but with the terminations, the guys getting hurt, the next step is a fatality. So, we have to do something.”

The City of Goose Creek released this statement:

The City of Goose Creek takes great pride in its Fire Department, and at no time have any current openings affected the Department’s ability to serve every resident. We have recently instituted a wide range of initiatives to modernize and indeed transform our Department, including pay increases in 2021, the creation of a Safety Committee in 2021, mandatory fitness training for all firefighters, the purchase of five new apparatuses, and the creation of several new positions including: three full time Battalion Chiefs, a full time Assistant Chief of Training, and an Assistant Chief of EMS. Change can be hard, but raising the bar was the right thing to do. We appreciate the City’s faith and support in our Fire Department.

Tuesday afternoon Goose Creek Mayor Greg Habib posted onto social media:

The City of Goose Creek’s investment in our Fire Department over the last four years can only be described as transformational. It includes millions of dollars on new apparatus, equipment, alarm systems and training.

More than that, we have invested in people.

For the first time, our Fire Department has a full time training officer. We’ve hired our first three Battalion Chiefs. Two new Assistant Chiefs were added to allow the shift Battalion Chiefs to focus on the operation of their shift crews and emergency services. A new, Paramedic-only position was created on the ambulance.

In addition to creating new positions, a Department-wide communications program – including surveys and open forums – has created new lines of communication within the GCFD. We transitioned our firefighters into the Police retirement program, a much better alternative. And we issued an across-the-board pay raise in 2021 to keep the GCCFD competitive with surrounding cities.

These investments do not come without accountability. To that end, we have instituted national standards set by the NFPA. This represents a significant change from the past. These changes include:

· Physical training and testing

· Mental evaluation for new hires and promotions

· Technical instruction and testing

· Training on decision making

· Supervisor training

· Promotional testing

To be promoted to leadership positions like Engineer or Lieutenant or Captain, it makes good sense that one should have learned the requisite technical and management skills. We now teach those advanced skills and test for them. In short, we now operate to the same national standards as other cities our size and bigger.

Do we have vacancies in our Fire Department? We do. In 2022, you’d be hard pressed to find a Fire Department in the Lowcountry or anywhere else without vacancies. But simply filling these openings is not enough. We need to fill them with the most qualified men and women that we can find. To do that, we have instituted a new hiring program that will ensure we hire only the best candidates. Our work is paying off: eight new firefighters are coming on board in the next month alone.

It is true that our firefighters are working a lot of overtime. Most of that overtime is voluntary – but some of it isn’t. And our Chiefs have jumped back on trucks to ensure every call is answered every time. We have fortified agreements with our neighboring cities to ensure Rapid Fire Response and Automatic Aid. Through these agreements, Goose Creek exceeds the national standard for getting personnel on the scene of a fire. That is true even with the current vacancies.

And for the record: I was never contacted by anyone – within the City or outside of the City – requesting a meeting about our Fire Department. Like so much of what we heard yesterday, that statement is not true.

In closing, let me publicly thank the incredible firefighters now at the GCCFD. This group is the most talented, most dedicated, and frankly most important in the history of our City. Our firefighters have embraced change and met the challenge. Their career choice alone speaks to the selflessness and courage that each possess. We are proud and grateful for each and every one of them.

The City’s number one priority remains the safety of every resident. We will continue to ensure that safety by funding, maintaining, modernizing and improving our Fire Department

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