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Masters week exposes 'serious' Augusta firefighter shortage, department 'depleted'

By: Chris Thomas Email
By: Chris Thomas Email

News 12 at 6 o'clock, Tuesday, April 3, 2012

AUGUSTA,Ga -- Fire officials are fired up about staffing being watered down. We are learning the fire department is short firefighters as thousands of people descend on the city for Masters week.

"We're left in a mess," said Charles Masters who is president of the Augusta Firefighter's association. "We were left in a mess."

We are learning the city is facing a firefighter shortage as thousands descend on Augusta for Masters week 2012.

"The past administration failed to hire, they failed to promote, they failed to fill ranks," said Charles Masters. "It has left our department depleted."

We went straight to Augusta fire chief Chris James.

"It is a very serious issue," said Chief James.

It turns out the department is using overtime to cover several vacant positions.

"We are 40 people short," said Chief James. "The lesson for us to learn is to assure that we never get that short again."

The department called in 10 workers for overtime on Tuesday.

"My number one concern is the safety of the men," said Masters.

Overtime hours often amount to firefighters working two days straight.

"Our first duty is to protect the citizens," said Chief James.

The annual overtime budget sits at $600,000.

"The first quarter," noted Chief James. "We have spent almost half of that."

The long hours coupled with Masters week has some firefighters calling out sick.

"We need you to come to work," said Chief James. "We don't need to have firefighters calling in sick so that they can go work at the Masters."

We pulled the personnel policy on sick leave.

"If you're engaged in outside employment activity while on sick leave," noted Chief James. "That is an ethics violation. That means a person that is in violation of that policy will be terminated."

The fire chief says this is a temporary problem. They have more than 30 firefighters in training, but the training takes 90 days.


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