The New Haven Fire Department has been short-staffed for a while now, but with nine retirements in the past week, its members are feeling an extra burden.
“Usually when you have nine or 10 retirements, you can absorb that pretty easily, but since we're at such a high level of vacancies to begin with, every position that we lose is really a greater impact than normal,” said Assistant Fire Chief Pat Egan.
Currently, there are 116 vacancies in the department, including supervisory roles like lieutenants and chiefs.
The union says 40 off the 88 supervisor positions are vacant, and firefighters have been working long shifts and overtime to make sure the fire houses around the city are staffed.
“We're at a critical stage where if we don't start filling these positions, public safety will be impaired,” said Lt. Jim Cottage, president of the fire union.
Contract negotiations are ongoing between the fire union and the city, but new Mayor Toni Harp said New Haven is already moving forward with new hires.
Harp said a test has already been held for new firefighters and the police department is currently working on background checks. Those should be finished soon, and then a recruit class with 45 new firefighters will be set to begin in March.
“We have to have regular classes and certainly, we have actually not done that," said Harp. "We need to solve some of the personnel issues a little higher up to actually bring new cadets on and have a new class, but we can do the new class now, and hopefully every year we'll have at least one new class until we build up again.”