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Firefighter’s union calls Petersburg situation ‘big safety issue’

PETERSBURG, Va. - Mechanical issues with the Petersburg Fire Department’s aging fleet has caused leaders to use outdated, 40-year old engines and even borrow a truck from a neighboring jurisdiction, according to the Petersburg Professional Firefighters Association.

Current firefighters told union leaders mechanical issues have forced several apparatus off the street. At least one truck from the 1970s is currently in use, and a Colonial Heights truck was being used at Petersburg Fire Station four, according to Gene Beemer with the PPFA.

“It’s one of the biggest safety issues they’ve got going right now, both for the firefighters and the city of Petersburg,” said Beemer.

Petersburg’s financial woes have impacted every city department, but CBS 6 has learned they are at least in part responsible the fire apparatus situation.

The department’s main ladder truck, a $1 million piece of equipment, had been placed out of commission two months ago due to mechanical problems, according to Beemer. The unit has been fixed and is sitting in the parking lot at Atlantic Emergency Solutions in Chester.

A manager with the company said the city has not been able to pay the full bill yet, so the truck will remain there until that obligation is met. The same manager did reiterate Petersburg officials contacted Atlantic recently to say they would be able to pay off the bill soon.

CBS 6 contacted the city manager’s office in Petersburg about these concerns. A spokesperson said on the phone they were looking into the situation. So far, we have not heard back.

Petersburg City Council member Brian Moore said city leaders needed to put public safety funding “at the front” of the list. He said leaders would work to get the trucks in working order as soon as possible. In response to using outdated fire trucks, Moore said an antique fire engine is much different than an antique car, so the issues need to be taken care of soon.

Moore also thanked Colonial Heights, and said he hoped Petersburg could return the favor some day.

Beemer said daily uncertainty is not only costing the city good firefighters, who find work elsewhere, but put is putting public safety at in jeopardy.

“What’s the cost of a life in the city? You can’t keep saying the money is not there, and fully fund a fire department,” Beemer said.

Some critics have said that the recent decision to hire the Robert Bobb Group to help turnaround city services is too costly, at a time when other expenses and services are clearly in jeopardy. The vote to approve the Bobb Group was 6-1 in favor of hiring them.