Columbia Fire Department Returns to Full Staffing

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COLUMBIA - The Columbia Fire Department (CFD) is closing in on the end of its second 11-week training program this year, a program that will fill vacancies to bring the force to full strength.

These training programs are held for new recruits joining the department. This current session involves ten recruits, five of whom are Columbia firefighters. The other five are training to work for other departments.

"I think the fire service offers a lot where it's all encompassing; there's so many different aspects to it," recruit Ryan Shelton said. "There's EMS, Hazmat, and the fire service just offers so many different venues."

In 2011, budget cuts from the city resulted in the loss of four firefighter positions in Columbia. Along with that came the shutdown of Engine 2. Engine 2 was shut down because one crew from Station 2 was transferred to Station 9. Station 9 was expected to have its own staff, but the budget cuts made it impossible.This created a smaller force covering a wide area.

"We were stretched out," Battalion Chief Brad Frazier said.

But in February of this year, CFD added five new firefighters to its staff. These positions were funded by the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant. The department filed for the grant and was awarded it by the Department of Homeland Security. The addition means the department returned to it pre-2011 staffing level of 141 firefighter positions.The current training will allow the department to fill all its vacancies, Frazier said.

Fraizer and training Captain John Metz said the department needs to improve on its response times to emergency calls.