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Some Colonial Heights residents fear fire department is understaffed

COLONIAL HEIGHTS, Va. -- Investigators are still trying to figure out exactly what caused a house fire in Colonial Heights over the weekend, but the fire prompted some people to call the CBS 6 Problem Solvers.

"Response was very quick" said Clay Saunders, who lives next door to a house that caught fire early Sunday morning.

Saunders says unlike watching on TV, seeing firefighters in action was impressive. "Trucks were here and they were on the job. I was very impressed with the Emergency Team that showed up," he said.

While smoke and flames were visible, Saunders and his wife Maria, realized one of their neighbors was still trapped inside. They watched as firefighters made their way upstairs to get him out but once they did, Maria spotted a problem.

"I was surprised there was so many fire trucks and emergency workers out here that there was no ambulance, you know it took awhile for it to get here," she said.

That ambulance was a mutual aid unit from the City of Petersburg.

Officials say the reason Colonial Heights Fire & EMS didn't have an ambulance respond was ten minutes before the house fire call came in, a medical emergency call came in to 911.

"So we had seven personnel from this city, career staff to respond to the house fire," said Fire Chief A.G. Moore.

A house or building fire in Colonial Heights means automatic mutual aid for fire trucks from Chesterfield County, so there were enough firefighters to battle the flames. But Colonial Heights is dealing with a major increase in EMS calls with no increase in staff.

From 2012 to 2016, overall call volume increased 11 percent, to nearly 5,000 calls for service in 2016.

Now the first six months of 2017 is seeing EMS transports to hospitals up 19.9 percent as opposed to the same time frame in 2016.

"That's some of the pressure that we're feeling call volume wise" said Chief Moore, who added that he'd like to see his staffing increase from 11-13 to a minimum of 13 every shift.

CBS 6 Senior Reporter Wayne Covil reached out to City Hall and received this statement from Colonial Heights City Manager Douglas Smith:

"Regarding Fire & EMS Department staffing, City staff applied for a Federal staffing grant for six positions (last year’s grant award dates started in July and ran to September).  In addition, we will review department budget requests, including any requests from the Fire & EMS Department for staffing as part of the development of next fiscal year’s budget".

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