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Firefighters union sounds alarm over staffing issues after temporary gap in service in Virginia Beach

The Virginia Beach Professional Fire and EMS president said the department faces a critical staffing shortage and is increasing mandatory overtime.

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — The Virginia Beach firefighters union is sounding the alarm about staffing shortages.

“I know that I would want to know if my fire station was shut down where I live,” said Virginia Beach Professional Fire and EMS President Max Gonano. “So, we want to let the public to know, hey, you are a little less safe today because your first due fire truck is not going to be staffed today.”

On Saturday, Gonano said fire department staff had to “brownout” Fire Engine 15, housed at Fort Story.

“That engine was shut down and that crew was dispersed throughout the city to help fill mandatory holes in other parts of the city,” Gonano said.

He said the next closest station in that situation is Station 1 on Shore Drive or Station 11 at the Oceanfront, to service North End residents between 64th to 89th Streets. The union posted about the situation on Facebook over the weekend.

Gonano said Engine 15 went back into service Sunday. Still, some North End residents are concerned.

“I hope they can get this situation fixed before it really impacts somebody,” said one resident.

Gonano said the department faces a critical staffing shortage and is increasing mandatory overtime. He said in 2022, the fire department clocked nearly 14,000 hours of mandatory overtime.

“It is stressing out the workforce,” Gonano said. “It is overworking everybody. It is not a healthy environment because these people are working 24 hours. They are getting to the end of their 24-hour shift, and they are being told, 'Hey, you are not going home today, you are going to stay for another 12 hours, or you are going to work somewhere else.'”

13News Now reached out to Virginia Beach Fire Chief Ken Pravetz about the issue.

He said brownouts are extremely rare. He said on Saturday, the Navy’s firetruck remained in service while the Virginia Beach truck went out of service. He also said the fire department has new graduates on the way.

"Temporary station closures, or "brownouts," are extremely rare for VBFD, and I can't recall a time in my history with VBFD when we've ever had to do this for staffing shortages. The instance that occurred last Saturday was an anomaly, and regretfully - despite all attempts - we simply did not have enough staff to operate the station safely. All calls for service were covered by the Navy’s apparatus in the same station. We also had redundant coverage from the next two closest stations, 1 and 11. 

Moving forward we will soon welcome about 25 new VBFD Academy graduates to operations. Also, to help explore and identify our staffing needs across the department, we have contracted for a staffing analysis," Chief Pravetz said in a statement.

However, Gonano said the Navy doesn’t respond to first due EMS emergencies, and he said when they go to fire calls, because they aren’t a part of the department, they aren’t well versed in Virginia Beach fire ground operations.

“We just need more people to staff the mandatory minimum spots that we already have,” Gonano said.

Gonano said this is the first time the Virginia Beach Fire Department has browned out a fire truck for staffing since the 1990s.

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