Paducah Fire Department at lowest number of firefighters in years

PADUCAH — One extra body makes a difference when responding to a fire. Paducah’s fire chief says it takes everyone on a shift to respond to a fire.

A report by the International Association of Firefighters, a union representing firefighters in the U.S. and Canada, says the city of Paducah is recommended to have 24 people per shift. That would relieve pressure on current staff and increase overall response times to all incidents. Currently, the department has 15 firefighters and one assistant chief on each shift.

The report says with current staffing, Paducah Fire responds to about 30% of its emergency calls with four firefighters within four minutes. The report says they could increase that to about 80% with nine more people on a shift.

“If we were able to add a person to that, that would allow us to get to that number quicker, get to those jobs quicker, and create that efficiency,” said Paducah Fire Chief Steve Kyle.

Before the fire department and city can consider the IAF’s recommendations, they’re trying to reach national fire staffing standards. The National Fire Protection Association says Paducah needs 62 firefighters. The city has a budget for 59. Kyle said the department currently employs 54.

Paducah City Commissioner Richard Abraham said the 59 provided for in the budget is not good enough. “We need to get that 62,” he said. “Now, how you do that with some of the financial stress that we have on the city overall?” He said that’s what the city commission needs to figure out.

Mayor Brandi Harless said she agrees. “For me, it is a priority to make sure we get our fire department to the staffing levels they need and deserve,” she said.

The fire department and the police department have the biggest chunk of the city’s budget. The city commissioners and mayor have an opportunity to increase or decrease that funding next fiscal year.

The Paducah Professional Firefighters Union asked the IAFF to do the report. Nathan Torian, the union’s president, said it’s not about politics. “This about safety, and that’s all its ever going to be about,” he said.

He said low numbers mean more overtime, and that could become dangerous. “If they work two fires back to back, that’s double exposure,” he said. “Cancer right now is the number one killer of every firefighter all over the country,” Torian said.  That’s according to a study by the IAFF. Some other reports list heart attacks as the leading cause.

The fire department is going to operate with 51 firefighters starting in August. The department be back to the budgeted 59 people in December after new hires finish 20 weeks of training.

The fire chief said the staffing recommendations of the IAFF would be great, but a large price tag comes with it.

“Would it make a big difference?” Kyle said. “Of course it would. If we go from 15 to 24 on a shift, it would increase our ability to put four people on the scene within four minutes and the accompaniment of 15 firefighter on a scene in 8 minutes exponentially.”

The fire department currently has an ISO-Class 2, which rates the fire protection capability of the local fire department to respond to structure fires. The score is on a scale of 1-10 with 1 being the best. ISO scores are commonly used by insurance companies to set home insurance rates.

Everyone we spoke with said getting more staffing is a priority in the city. In the meantime, the chief said they’ll continue to keep you safe with current number, but the budgeting is up to the people of Paducah and the city.

Read the full IAFF report: