Fire chief: Brownouts to continue

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LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) - For about the past year, the Lexington Fire Department has had to take fire engines out of service due to low staffing levels.

"Bottom line is you're looking at longer response times. Medical runs, fire runs, whatever, like I said, yesterday, seconds mattered," said Lt. Chris Bartley of the Lexington Fire Department.

"We roll throughout the city trucks that we brown out for the day" said Chief Keith Jackson.

Right now, three engines a day are browned out. In some cases, like a fire on Clays Mill yesterday, engines that would have been first in line to respond to a fire weren't in service, so the next closest engine responded. The ambulance got there first as the fire was in the garage. When the engine got there after a delay of 20 to 30 seconds, the fire had spread throughout the house.

"Seconds count. The bottom line is seconds count," said Jackson.

One class of firefighters graduated in August, another is expected to graduate in a few months. The hiring process is ongoing for a third class, but Chief Jackson says it could be up to 18 months before they get back to target staffing levels.

Chief Jackson says the department needs about 550 firefighters to man every truck. When the next class graduates, there will be about 505 firefighters. The mayor's office has approved limited overtime to alleviate some of the brownouts, but after announcing a surplus for fiscal year 2012, some firefighters say it's time to approve enough overtime to end brownouts altogether.

"You seem to have a surplus and you celebrate it, now make public safety a priority," said Bartley.

A spokesperson for the mayor's office said since the fiscal year just ended, they haven't decided what to do with the surplus.

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