Big Spring FD faces understaffing challenges, safety concern
BIG SPRING, Texas (KOSA) - Understaffing at one fire department is causing safety and burn out concerns as some firefighters are working 96-hour shifts.
Big Spring Fire Department has experienced 15 departures in just a few months, with two more on the way. That’s according to Chanley Delk, the president of the Big Spring Professional Firefighters Association.
Staffing shortages are affecting many West Texas fire departments, but a loss of funding, a controversial city council decision and low pay has snowballed into a severe situation.
The situation comes in the wake of Big Spring City Council’s July decision to stop funding 10 Safer grant-supported positions within the fire department.
The plan was to lose 10 employees as they quit voluntarily over time, without refilling their position. However, 13 left in the first month.
“It was sort of a snowball effect of several different circumstances that happened at the same time,” BSFD Chief Jay Holt said. “We did lose the Safer staffing, which was a very tough decision made by city council.”
Holt says many Texas fire departments are understaffed. When it comes to pay, Big Spring can’t compete. It also couldn’t fund the previous positions.
“It’s hard for a smaller market town, or a small town like Big Spring to compete with Lubbock’s and Midland’s pay scale,” Delk said. “We don’t have their tax base, so everybody always wants to make more money. So I’m going to say money is a big motivator. I can’t fault any firefighter that leaves Big Spring and wants to go make more money and provide for their family.”
While he doesn’t think the city council made the decision with malice, Delk noted that for some, it hurt morale.
Typically, BSFD firefighters would work a 48-hour shift, then have four days off. With a short staff, they may work 72 to 96 hours with one day off in between.
That causes safety concerns. That’s why Michael Fangman left after 11 years.
“That’s our entire goal, to get home safe and for everyone to get home safe,” Fangman said. “If you don’t have enough people to help you do that job, or at least an adequate number to help you do that job, the risks go up exponentially.”
Delk says BSFD will lose a total of 17 firefighters by the end of the year, at least, with three retirements expected next year.
Chief Holt says the department is working hard to recruit. The fire department is eager to work with the city to find solutions.
Nonetheless, safety of citizens and colleagues is top of mind for BSFD.
“While we’re against the overtime, if it’s for the safety of our firefighters and means we’ll have an extra guy to help out, where there wouldn’t be, I think our guys will step up and answer the call,” Delk said.
Big Spring city officials were not available for comment.
Find more information about BSFD recruitment here.
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