Despite one of the highest Insurance Services Office (ISO) ratings in the country, the Mobile Fire-Rescue Department is still using three men instead of four on many trucks.
The practice, known by some as “riding short,” has become standard procedure for all but eight of MFRD’s ladder companies, a spokesman has confirmed.
MFRD Public Information Officer Steven L. Millhouse said companies that have the highest number of runs on average, or those that have the highest potential for urban search and rescue, will run with more members to a truck.
“We run three-man teams usually for the rest,” he said.
Millhouse said running with three men to a truck is more efficient given the manpower at the department, but that the preferred practice nationwide is to run with four to a truck.
“Now, many departments are running three men per truck,” he said. “It comes down to money.”
Riding three men to a truck causes some safety concerns for firefighters, local firefighter advocacy group President Matt Waltman said. The issue can also cause brief delays at a scene if more manpower is needed, he said.
Waltman, who said his group has a good working relationship with MFRD Chief Mark Sealy, blamed turnover and a general lack of manpower for the department riding short on a majority of its trucks. Getting to the right number of personnel on the trucks continues to be a goal for the department, he said.
“It’s a slow but steady work in progress,” he said. “The department is budgeted for four positions on each truck, but we can’t keep up with the people who are leaving. Our retention is the problem.”
Waltman said Sealy wants to increase staffing, and there is a recruiting class of about 20 to 22 cadets preparing to join the department in March. The increased numbers will help, but turnover will remain a problem.
The Mobile City Council in 2016 passed step raises for firefighters in an attempt to make pay more competitive with other departments. Waltman praised the raises, but added there is still an issue with turnover.
Despite staffing levels, Sealy helped lead the department to achieve the ISO-1 rating with the help of the Mobile Area Water and Sewer System and other agencies. The rating, which was issued in November, puts the department in the top half of 1 percent of departments in the nation. Previously the department maintained an ISO-3 rating.
For the achievement, Mayor Sandy Stimpson recently presented Sealy with the distinguished Award of Excellence. This is only the second time the mayor has given this award to an individual.
“Chief Sealy is the epitome of a servant leader,” Stimpson said in a statement. “During the quest to ISO-1, Chief Sealy never made it about himself or a select few, but he made it about the city of Mobile. His strong leadership led us to reach this major milestone.”
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