A recent report on the Durham Fire Department’s response to the April 10 gas explosion downtown could bolster the department’s request for 75 more firefighters.
The Fire Department has about 385 people who fight fires. Having more would improve response times and on-scene efficiency, reducing injuries and property loss, according to a presentation the department gave the city in March, about a month before the explosion.
The City Council approved an initial three new positions at a cost of $248,011. A six-year plan to hire all 75 firefighters would cost $4.8 million.
“I am very interested in seeing their request come back to us, and I am sure we will look at it favorably,” Mayor Steve Schewel said in an interview Monday.
The eight-page report released last week examined the Fire Department’s response to the explosion, which occurred after a contractor laying fiber on North Duke Street hit a gas line.
One person died immediately, one died later and 25 were injured. Eighteen buildings housing 23 businesses sustained more than $100 million worth of property damage.
Ninety-seven firefighters responded to the explosion. Nine firefighters were injured.
“I truly think we did a really good job the day of the explosion and the subsequent days,” Fire Chief Robert Zoldos said. “There are clearly some ways that we can do better. And that is why we engaged in this operational tactical look at this department.”
After seeing the Fire Department’s response in person and reading the report, Schewel said he remains impressed and grateful.
“I don’t have any concerns,” he said. “I thought they did an amazing job.”
The report’s recommendations include:
▪ Increase staffing by 75 firefighters over five years.
Eighteen of the Fire Department’s 24 engine companies responded, but only four had the recommended staffing of four employees, the report states.
The National Fire Protection Association recommends a minimum of four people on engine companies to effectively fight fires and perform related tasks that include establishing a water supply, starting the initial fire attack, ventilating a building and other actions.
In a comparison with 11 nearby cities or cities about Durham’s size, only two — Greensboro and Richmond, Virginia — staffed all their engone or ladder trucks with four firefighters.
“I think all cities are struggling with that standard,” Zoldos said.
Ed Conlin, division director for the association, said the standards are best practices recommended by industry professionals, including fire chiefs.
Having four personnel on a truck is based on a federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration rule that requires a two-in, two-out approach to fires, he said. It prevents firefighters from entering a building unless there are two people outside and two people going inside. Fire companies with three firefighters have to wait for an additional truck before they can start an internal attack, he said.
The association aslo has standards for the number of firefighters recommended to fight fires in houses (12), apartments (22) and high rises (40).