Augusta faces shortage of firefighters

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News 12 at 6 o'clock/ Monday, June 30, 2014

Augusta,Ga (WRDW)------Some fire stations in Augusta are closing and not because they're not needed. Augusta's Fire-chief says it's because there's a shortage of firefighters.

He says the city just can't keep them, because they're leaving for better pay elsewhere. John Guanlao's tattoo business almost went up in flames with the building next door. He says it took firefighters more than12 hours to get the flames under control.

"They did everything they could to keep the fire from spreading to the buildings attached to the building on fire," said Business Owner John Guanlao. He was still out of business for months and will have to move once construction starts next door.

Guanlao says he's thankful the fire department showed up when they did. "They were completely committed making sure everything was under control," said Guanlao.

Now Augusta Fire-chief Chris James wants more money to keep firefighters from leaving Augusta and heading to Atlanta. He wants to raise the entry level firefighters salary to $30,000. "As people are continuously leaving, we are trying to reach our goal of fully staffing a department, It really makes it difficult to reach that goal, said Chief James.

Chief James told commissioners the department has lost 140 firefighters in the last 5 and a half years. The city's HR department doesn't track how many actually left for better paying jobs. 39 retired at higher salaries than the newly hired firefighters came in earning. Still the Chief says he needs a bigger payroll budget.

Commissioner Bill Fennoy says the garbage men deserve a raise just as much as anybody else . "They deserve fair compensation for the job that they do just like the firemen and policemen," said Commissioner Bill Fennoy.

"I think they should get paid top dollar," said John Guanlao.

The Fire-department wants more money for firefighters. The sheriff's office wants more money for deputies. Other city employees haven't had raises in years. The commission could make that decision at the end of July 2014.

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