N.C. Fire Boat Response Delayed by Low Staffing


A recent fire on Lake Norman highlights big staffing concerns, said firefighters at Cornelius-Lemley Fire and Rescue.

A fire boat was bought last year for $400,000 to be used to respond to fires on the lake. It was used for the first time on a fire in October, when a house caught fire on Norman Shores Drive. Firefighters got to the scene in just seven minutes, but they were not able to get to the fire boat for 30 minutes.

Firefighters said it was because of staffing issues. They did not have enough manpower on the ground to spare someone to go and get the boat.

Captain Greg Shaner said nationally recognized standards recommend having at least four firefighters on the first truck to arrive at the scene of a fire. But on nights and weekends, there are just three paid firefighters in Cornelius. The department sometimes has to wait for volunteers to come before they can go inside a burning home.

At the fire in October, only three firefighters were working when the emergency call came in.

"Had we had additional staffing, we could have gotten the boat there a lot sooner and made a big difference," Shaner said.

No one was inside the Lake Norman home in October, but Shaner said the staffing issues could make a big difference when there are people trapped.

"I think it definitely could be the difference between life or death, he said.

The department is asking the town of Cornelius to give them an additional $135,000 a year so it can increase its staff. The town currently contracts with the department, so while the town gives the department money, the department decides how to use it.

Commissioner Dave Gilroy told Eyewitness News this is an issue that needs to be looked at , but there is little extra money to go around.

"We're looking at where our limited resources can have the most impact," Gilroy said.

He also said Cornelius has an outstanding fire department that is on par with some of the best in the country. They are not required to meet those national recommendations.

"We may already be above the level that is far and beyond a standard for a town our size in this country," Gilroy said.

Gilroy also said the town needs to look at the possibility of docking the fire boat at a different location that might make it more accessible for firefighters.

Members of the fire department met with town leaders on Monday to discuss the issue. Town leaders said no action would be taken there, but budget workshops start in the beginning of 2012 and the issue will be on their minds then.

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