SHREVEPORT, La — An internal audit of the city’s fire department is raising alarms at city hall. It shows response times are too slow. And some fire stations have had to temporarily shut down.
Chief Scott Wolverton went before the a city council committee to answer to the results. The audit showed that the department’s overall response times have fallen below national standards.
It looked at data from four straight years beginning in 2016. It showed that Shreveport’s fire trucks are too slow getting out of the station about half the time, and too slow getting to the scene almost a third of the time.
Wolverton blamed it on an aging fleet of trucks that are breaking down. Sometimes that means shutting down a fire station.
He explained that after the engine at Fire Station 1 went down, he was forced to move the engine from Fire Station 2 to over to Station 1 “to best cover the city.”
But that meant the temporary closure of Station 2.
“Station 2 has been shut down since Saturday because we have no engine to put in that station,” Wolverton told the council’s Audit & Finance Committee.
Signs hang on the doors of the station, which is located on the city’s far north end on North Market. That station normally covers North Highlands and part of the MLK area.
Meantime, on the west side of town, Fire Station 12 at Bert Kouns and Woolworth Road recently reopened after being shut down for five days because its engine went out of service.
Wolverton says he doesn’t have enough trucks — that are even older — that are in reserve to replace the trucks that are breaking down. And often, he says the cost for repairs is more than some of the old trucks are worth.
“There’s some of our apparatus that right now they probably wouldn’t appraise for about 4 or $5,000. And we’re spending 15, 20, $25,000 dollars on repairs,” the chief said.
Grayson Boucher, chairman of the council’s Public Safety Committee, said, “We’ve got fire trucks that should’ve been retired 10 to 15 years ago. So what about the safety of the firemen? Because if they can’t get to you — there’s the safety of the citizen, too.”
Wolverton said that of the 21 fire engines currently in service in Shreveport, only four meet national standards in terms of age.
He and Boucher both say the city needs a replacement plan to lease new fire trucks as they go. That’s instead of the city’s current practice of trying to pay for lots of new trucks at once through bond measures.
Boucher says the chief is expected to present a replacement program plan at the next budget cycle.
Some help is on the way now. Two used fire trucks that Shreveport bought from Bossier City earlier this year are now in service. And three new trucks arrive next month that the city budgeted for.
Boucher says anything else at this point would have to come from a bond election, which could happen in November.
Boucher says the fleet is not the only problem that’s causing some fire stations to be out of operation. He says some fire stations have also had to close because they’re short on personnel.
“We’re having trouble recruiting firemen. We’re having trouble retaining firemen. And a lot of that goes to pay. And that’s something this city council and the mayor are really going to have to look hard at. We’ve got to get our pay up,” Boucher said.
The council recently gave firefighters an overall 6% pay raise. But Boucher says that still falls short of what firefighters can make in Bossier City or elsewhere.