“I happened to be in the neighborhood, and I stopped and was watching some of it,” Second Ward Councilman Rich Saddler said. “The only concern I had with that is that they did have to call in back-up from New Boston and Sciotoville, and that did leave those two communities vulnerable, because of the amount of people that we have, and the funding, and these sorts for our city departments. That’s why I encourage everybody to vote for our city income tax.”
President of City Council John Haas echoed Saddler’s sentiments.
“I was hoping the (Fire) Chief would have been here tonight because I wanted to ask him what would have happened. I know they were out on that call for quite a while, and I wondered what would have happened if there had been a fire out in Sciotoville or New Boston, for that matter, or another part of Portsmouth,” Haas said. “What would have happened? It goes back to funding and manpower, being short on both counts here in town.”
Portsmouth Fire Chief Bill Raison did not hesitate to answer Haas’ question in a call on Tuesday afternoon.
“Depending on the extent of the fire, that is what dictates what response we’re going to have,” Raison said. “We had a pretty good size fire, so we needed the extra manpower. So if the same thing happened in Sciotoville, then we’re going to drain downtown. You have to take care of the emergency that you have. At some point, if you have a general alarm fire, you’re going to exhaust all of your resources. The potential always exists for you to have some part of the city that is not covered. But it is worse now because we are short-staffed. We have fewer people on the crews. We have no money to cover the overtime.”
Raison said if the fire had gone on longer, he would have been forced to call people in and run the department’s budget into negative numbers, because of overtime.
“At some point you have to get the coverage or you are taking too big of a risk,” Raison said.
In recent months First Ward Councilman Kevin Johnson has mounted an effort to repeal sections 87 and 89 of the City Charter, dealing with staffing minimums in both the Fire and Police departments. According to those sections, each department now must maintain a staffing level of 44.
“That’s another thing that aggravates me,” Raison said. “If the email that I was given is correct, and it was really what Kevin Johnson sent out, and I am told that it was, he says in there, one, that there hasn’t been any cuts to the Fire Department and the Police Department. That is not even true. We are cut. I’ve had three guys retire this year and they haven’t been replaced. And a few years ago we had a guy retire that wasn’t replaced. So from the 39 guys that we had when I came to the Fire Department, I’m down to 35. So we have been cut. So that was just blatantly wrong.”
Raison also criticized Johnson’s premise that minimum staffing is flawed.
“He said the minimum staffing idea is a stupid idea,” Raison said. “My challenge to you is to go out to hospital and ask how many people they have to have to start that Cardiac Cath Lab. Because I guarantee you there’s a minimum number.”
Fourth Ward Councilman Jerrold Albrecht said this was not the first time the house in the 500 block of Market Street has been an issue.
“I would like to make a statement that the House that was burnt on Market Street, I had turned that in several years ago,” Albrecht said. “I wish we would have had the money to have torn it down then and saved ourselves a lot of problems.”
The Friday night fire destroyed the Market Street house.
FRANK LEWIS may be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 232, or firstname.lastname@example.org.