City to staff Chuckatuck engine

Published 9:36 pm Thursday, March 16, 2017

The Suffolk Department of Fire and Rescue will begin staffing an engine at Station 9 in Chuckatuck around the clock on April 1.

Chief Jacob Johnson of the Chuckatuck Volunteer Fire Department stands in front of Engine 29, which the department will continue to staff at certain times following the transition of Engine 9 to being staffed by Suffolk Department of Fire and Rescue.

The move comes at the request of the Chuckatuck Volunteer Fire Department, which told the city increasing call volumes and decreasing volunteer availability have necessitated making a change.

Chuckatuck Volunteer Fire Department Chief Jacob Johnson said in a phone interview Thursday that the decision was a hard one for the department to make, but it was ultimately a necessary one.

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“It was time to do something and be proactive instead of waiting until we missed a call,” Johnson said. “We haven’t missed a call. We haven’t missed anything. This is an effort to be ahead of that before that happened.

“It certainly was not an easy decision to come by for any of us,” he continued. “There’s a lot of pride and a lot of tradition.”

The volunteer department, which was organized in 1954, will continue to provide service through its tanker and brush truck and Engine 29, Johnson said.

Johnson said the decision was entirely made by the volunteers and that the city had not urged it. It was simply becoming clear that many demands are being made on volunteers’ time, he said.

“More and more people have to work 9-to-5 jobs and have families,” Johnson said. “There’s not new people moving in to fill the voids left by some of the older people who are unable to participate. It’s a matter of demographics. That’s the trend across the nation.”

Johnson said fewer volunteers live in the community now, meaning volunteers have to come spend time at the station rather than being able to respond from home. Those who work often don’t have jobs that will let them leave work to respond to calls, like employers who might have been more lenient decades ago.

At the same time as those situations have developed, the call volume has increased from about 200 a decade ago. The volunteers ran 400 calls last year, Johnson said.

“It’s simply a matter of call volume increasing and volunteer participation decreasing,” he said.

Engine 9 will become the first-run engine for Chuckatuck and the surrounding areas, Suffolk Fire and Rescue Chief Cedric Scott said by phone Thursday.

Initially, the engine will be staffed by redistributing personnel from other fire stations, he said. The career staff already mans an ambulance at the station.

Scott said he plans to monitor overtime and related costs the city incurs as a result of the plan.

City Manager Patrick Roberts stated in a letter to City Council members dated March 3 that the additional staff at Station 9 will initially decrease the number of firefighters in other locations. He said he will work with Scott to develop a budget that allows the city to increase staffing in the future.

Scott said he appreciates the many years of service by the Chuckatuck Volunteer Fire Department and that he looks forward to continuing to work with them.

“I am very appreciative of the fine job Chuckatuck has done,” Scott said. “They are just a great partner and a very important asset to our community. They will have a new role, and I’m looking forward to working with them in their new role.”