COLUMBIA - Columbia's second-busiest fire station operates fully staffed only 35 percent of the time, according to the city's fire marshall.
Brad Fraizer said, "We're all aware that we need additional staffing. But the firefighters that you see on the trucks every day will work with what we're given and do the best we can with the resources that are available to us."
There are times when Fire Station Two can only send one of its two trucks out on calls.
The station responded to 1,841 calls last year, only a few hundred less than the city's busiest station, Fire Station One.
The staffing issues started when the economy took a nosedive, just after a new station was added in 2010. Budget limits meant some of Station Two's firefighters had to start working at that new station.
"It weighs heavy on the hearts of the firefighters that serve here when they can't give the customers the service they deserve. It weighs on us," said Boone County firefighter Danny Spry Jr.
The issue of staffing is being felt by fire stations across Columbia. On days when Station 2's second company is not operating, the staff answers to all their calls with one fire truck. If a second call comes in while that truck is in use, firefighters from other stations respond. This means firefighters will have to drive further to get to the emergency, extending their response time. While this puts added stress on other Columbia fire stations, Fraizer said the real stress lies in the citizens in need.
"In the fire department and emergency services in general, it's all about getting there as quick as we can to address whatever emergency we're being called to," he said.
To help keep staffing at the current 35%, the city used a grant to fund five positions in mid-fiscal year 2013. The fire department hopes to lock in those five positions for next year. Frazier said the department eventually hopes to get Fire Station Two running full time.
"That's our goal, and our job as a fire department is to help answer questions for our elected officials and let them know what we believe is best suited to the community with regard to the fire department's ability to respond to emergencies," he said.
Columbia's City Manager, Mike Matthes said the staffing issue can't be solved over night. "It going to take 20 years to actually fix the problem," he said.
In order to fully staff Station Two, officials would need to hire six additional firefighters and fund up to $150,000 in overtime costs.