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Interim City Manager: Fire department issues are Petersburg’s top priority

PETERSBURG, Va. -- Interim City Manager Tom Tyrrell said Tuesday that the issues facing Petersburg’s fire department are the city's number one priority right now.

That news is a positive sign for the new Interim Fire Chief Brian Sturdivant who says the department has been in crisis mode for years.

One Petersburg taxpayer said he fed up with serious problems inside the Petersburg fire department.

“I’m tired of turning on the TV… I’m tired of looking on Facebook. I'm tried of reading in the paper... that our firefighters are using inadequate equipment.”

This comes after a retired Petersburg firefighter told CBS 6 Monday the city’s lack of equipment and resources could put the public’s safety at risk.

He said many of the city's fire trucks and its two ambulances do not work and the breathing apparatuses used by the firefighters break on a daily basis because they're old.

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He also said 20 firefighters left the department after enduring a 10 percent pay cut last year.

CBS 6 reporter Melissa Hipolit brought those concerns right to the new interim fire chief who took over January 1.

“How can you guarantee to the residents here in Petersburg that they will be safe in case of an emergency? Hipolit asked Sturdivant.

“Because we have a very dedicated, passionate and professional workforce,” he replied.

Still, Sturdivant admitted the department needs help.

“There has been years and years of decision making that has taken place that has gotten us to this critical mass,” he added.

He met Tuesday with the Robert Bobb group, who was hired to help manage the city, to talk about what should be done moving forward.

Sturdivant says it's very possible the 10 percent pay cut will be eliminated in the next couple of weeks.

Interim Fire Chief Brian Sturdivant

Interim Fire Chief Brian Sturdivant

“No commitment as of right now, but all things are on the table and under discussion,” said Sturdivant.

Sturdivant said the capital improvement plan includes funding for three new fire trucks, and a new ambulance is being built now with grant money.

He also said he's in talks with FEMA to get new breathing apparatuses funded again.

“We're no longer comfortable putting Band-Aids on these issues,” he said.

The city said in order to raise additional funds for the fire department they will auction off three vintage fire trucks in February.