City officials are at odds with representatives of the local firefighters union over the department's funding and resources. A recent statement by Todd Martinez, a firefighter who is president of Local 673 of the International Association of Fire Fighters, called for more stations, more equipment and the hiring of more firefighters.
“Public safety resources are supposed to increase as the municipality grows. That is not the case in High Point. The bottom line is that the High Point Fire Department needs more resources to successfully do its job,” Martinez said. “The fire department is dangerously understaffed and unable to meet the national standard requirement of four persons per fire suppression apparatus.”
That's what the National Fire Protection Association recommends as the industry standard, according to Martinez. The department deploys three firefighters on a truck but sends multiple trucks to each call. City Manager Strib Boynton said he and Fire Chief David Taylor determined that this approach provides ample safety for firefighters and the public.
“It's a desirable standard. It's not a mandatory standard,” Boynton said of the union's goal. “Our firefighters are good folks in a pretty tough job, and I think we have provided them with the equipment they need.”
In the past decade, the city has invested close to $20 million to build four new fire stations, acquire 10 new fire trucks and rescue squads and hire 24 additional firefighters. Boynton said the union is pushing for a new station at W. Lexington Avenue and Wallburg-High Point Road and more aggressive replacement of existing equipment, including the addition of at least two more engines and one ladder truck to the department's existing fleet.
The city has purchased a site but money isn't available to build, equip and operate a new station. Similarly, new engines cost between $400,000 to $500,000. The city likely will proceed with a new station when it's financially feasible.
“They are correct, in that we do need a more aggressive equipment replacement schedule,” Boynton said. “All we need is money.”
Boynton said he and Taylor do not see the need for the level of additional staffing being sought by the union. High Point compares favorably with other cities of comparable size in its total number of firefighters, he said.
“We have about 10,000 fire calls a year and about 100 working fires a year, so let's keep things in perspective,” he said, explaining that most of the calls are medical-related or for traffic accidents, false alarms and other factors. “When I look at the cost of hiring 82 additional firefighters for roughly 100 working fires a year, the cost is staggering.”
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The High Point Fire Fighters Association, a part of the International Association of Fire Fighters, represents about 20 percent of the High Point Fire Department's 224 employees, 197 of which are firefighters. State law does not allow public-employee unions to collectively bargain or sign contracts with local or state governments.
According to City Manager Strib Boynton, “the IAFF is a non-recognized labor organization whose leader wants to represent our firefighters.” According to the union, “The primary purpose of the High Point Fire Fighters Association is ensure the health, safety and general welfare of firefighters, as well as the public's safety, by making sure national industry standards are followed.”