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Firefighters union says 95 additional firefighters are needed in Columbia

The Columbia Fire Department needs to hire 95 firefighters to do their job effectively, according to the International Association of Firefighters.

The association presented their proposals Monday night to the Columbia City Council for the first collective bargaining agreement the union and the city have done.

Kurt Becker, with the association, expressed the need for additional staffing of firefighters in Columbia and said the city is “way below average.”

According to Becker, the department currently has 127 firefighters and ideally they should have 222. The association proposed that the minimum daily staffing of the Columbia Fire Department should be no less than 62 people on staff. Currently, the department has a staff of 36.

The shortage in staff affects the efficiency of the fire department with regard to quickly extinguishing a fire, limiting fire spread and limiting property damage.

The proposal is based on the 2016 national safe staffing standards revisions of NFPA 1710.

The staffing standards in the 1710 call for a minimum daily staffing of four firefighters on an engine. Currently, the department staffs three. Becker says with the large number of high-rise buildings in downtown Columbia, an engine should always be staffed with six firefighters, which currently the department can’t do.

The hiring of the additional 95 firefighters would cost the city more than $5 million to fund, with the average firefighter making $57,000.

Becker told ABC 17 News after the presentation that he is aware the number may be a lot to digest but it is needed.

“We know these negotiations are back-and-forth, but when we come to the table, we don’t come high-balling things,” Becker said. “That’s not the way we do business and we have pretty profound scientific data to back up the proposal we made.”

Better pay for the firefighters is another bargaining chip. The association says better pay would make Columbia a more desirable place to work and the Fire Department would not lose staff to Kansas City to St. Louis.

“In the last several years, we’ve had as many people leaving the Columbia Fire Department to pursue careers elsewhere as we’ve had people retiring,” Becker said.

Along with additional staffing and better pay, the association is asking the city to pay for the firefighters’ annual medical physicals, along with increasing the firefighters’ meal allowance from $13 to $15.

The Columbia Fire Department told ABC 17 News they always strive to increase staffing at the department.

The presentation on Monday night is just the first step. The International Association of Firefighters told ABC 17 News that several more meetings are already scheduled for March.

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