MIDDLETOWN, R.I. (WPRI) — A recent fire in Middletown has reignited ongoing concerns over understaffing at the town’s fire department.
Middletown Town Hall was packed Monday evening as residents and firefighters expressed safety concerns regarding what the Rhode Island Association of Firefighters has deemed “grossly inadequate” staffing.
The fire, which destroyed a Woolsey Street home on New Year’s Eve, left an 11-year-old girl and her father injured.
At the time, Middletown firefighters were busy responding to a medical emergency, so firefighters from Newport were the first to arrive and begin battling the flames.
“It’s not a question of apparatus, it’s not a question of the fire station itself the radios, it’s purely people,” Middletown resident Tom Welch said.
Welch, who has lived in Middletown his entire life, told Middletown Town Council that the recent fire is an example of a worst-case scenario and should not be taken lightly.
“The recent house fire was an unfortunate warning of situations to come,” Welch said.
Middletown Firefighters Local 1933 President John Jordan said understaffing at the department inhibits them from keeping residents safe 24/7.
“It’s been 30 years since we’ve had an increase in staff,” Jordan said. “Any increase in staff is going to greatly improve our ability to be able to respond to the public — quickly and efficiently — and mitigate the problem.”
Council President Robert Sylvia said safety is a priority, however, ensuring there is an adequate amount of staffing is an ongoing process.
“That data-driven process considers a number of factors, including the town’s declining population and taxpayers’ ability to pay,” Sylvia said.
While he continues to do his job the best he can, Jordan said the lack of staff has and will continue to affect the department’s response to emergency calls.
“We need help. We need help for our safety, and we need help for the safety, for the safety of the citizens of the town,” Jordan said.
The Rhode Island Association of Firefighters has been in arbitration with Middletown Town Council for a while now and claims town leaders refuse to negotiate.