COLUMBUS, Miss. (WCBI) – Three Columbus firemen were sent home after a COVID outbreak at the Mississippi State Fire Academy.
And with a short-staffed department, this could not have come at a worse time.
“It is a domino effect,” Assistant Chief Duane Hughes said.
Across the county, states are having to find ways to manage with low staff while dealing with the second wave of COVID. The Columbus Fire department is no exception.
After sending three untrained firemen to the Mississippi Fire Academy only for them to be sent back due to COVID cases, Assistant Chief Duane Hughes said the department is limited on what it can do.
“What that certification allows is for those firefighters number one, to enter a burning structure. This severely limits the opportunities of use here at the fire department,” Hughes said.
The seven weeks course would have allowed the firemen in training to reach full status and help eliminate some of the issues the department has had including short staffing and overtime pay.
“If it required 18 firefighters to be on shift and that shift only has 15 firefighters, then that means three would have to be hired over time. The level of expectation is having four firefighters on each truck and at the present time, with over time hiring, we’re only able to have three per truck,” Hughes said.
Although it may seem as simple as quarantining those who test positive at the academy, Chief of Training Mike Chandler said it takes time to get their men vaccinated and back in the classrooms.
“There’s a two-week wait between the first vaccination and the second and the next class is August 23rd, so they won’t be able to make that class,” Chandler said.
Hughes said his men won’t be able to go back to the academy until October. Until then, more money is going to be put towards paying people overtime. Which could put a strain on the department’s budget.
“The bulk of the fire department’s budget is allocated towards salaries. The majority of our budget is taken up by overtime hiring because of our staffing shortages,” Hughes added.
Although the three firemen in training will not have to restart the fire academy in October, the situation does push back future hiring.
“At this time, we have six uncertified firefighters, two on each shift. As far as future hires, until we get those personal certified, it will delay future hires,” Chandler said.
In response to the rise of COVID cases, the fire academy is requiring all who attend to be vaccinated in the future.