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Firefighters speak out at Portsmouth city council meeting

Posted at 12:32 PM, Mar 08, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-08 12:32:46-05

Portsmouth, Va. - In light of vacancies in the fire department and with the recent suspension of one of their own, Nathan Clarke, a spokesperson for the local firefighters' union, discussed those exact issues Tuesday night at the Portsmouth City Council meeting.

Earlier this week, the city manager suspended Captain Rusty Quillin for publicly speaking about staffing shortages in the department.

Ironically, the suspension leaves the understaffed department with one less firefighter.

The city maintains that Quillin was speaking as a city employee at the time of the interview. However, Clark says Quillin, who happens to be the president of the local firefighters' union, was speaking on behalf of the union, and was not on duty or in uniform.

"This is not something that's going away," Clark told city council members on Tuesday night.

"I agree with Councilman [Bill] Moody on that," said Brian McFarland, a Portsmouth resident. "I do not think that he should have been suspended over that. I think that seems a little bit ridiculous."

McFarland lives in the Churchland district of Portsmouth, just a few minutes away from a fire station.

All Churchland residents who spoke to NewsChannel 3 say they are lucky to live so close to a fire station.

"I never really thought about [shortages] because we are like two blocks away from the fire department," said resident Debbie Montgomery. "I figured we were safe there."

One neighbor, who did not want to be identified, confessed that she and some of her other neighbors received home insurance discounts because they lived so close to a fire station.

A former Wisconsin firefighter who lives in the neighborhood, Brandon Barwick, explained why firefighter shortages are so important to address.

"You know, car crashes, fires, people could die if there are not proper response times, if there is not enough staff," said Barwick. "We hope we do not need them, but we definitely do. People do not realize until it is too late."

In December, this same neighborhood lost one of their own after a fire killed a 75-year-old man.

The ladder truck needed to get him out of the home arrived 18 minutes after the initial call, because staffing shortages left a ladder truck that was located only a few minutes away from the home out of service.

The local firefighters' union estimates staffing shortages of up to 40 firefighters.

City officials disagree, and say they only have four firefighter vacancies open. With a new fire chief getting sworn in on Monday, they say it will be his responsibility to assess the staffing situation of the Fire and EMS department.

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