Canton reopens closed fire stations

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CANTON, Ohio - Firefighters spent the day Tuesday moving back into fire stations that have been closed for more than a year.

At Station Number 5 on West Tuscarawas Street, an Engine Company returning to the building for the first time since January 21st of last year.

The same at Station Number 6 on the city's east side.

Three stations re-opening as part of a plan to improve response times.

But the plan does not increase the number of firefighters or their equipment, it simply shuffles the existing numbers, spreading them out over more locations.

"The benefit is somewhere in the city it will at least decrease our response times by some type of help arriving rather than have them cluster in the middle," said Canton Fire Chief Thomas Garra.

The Canton Fire Department has been challenged in recent years by the city's budget struggles.

Its current staff of 144 is well below where Chief Garra believes it should be.

The budget difficulties are the reason a decision was made to close the stations.

"We are still working on a skeletal setup in my opinion, like I said we could use 21 more firefighters at a minimum to open up these station so that our response times drop even further," said Garra.

Opening the old stations is seen as something positive by those who live near them.

"Hopefully we don't ever need to have them but they are right there and it gives a little more security to the area just to overall having them there," said Terry Evans.

"Actually I've been a little lonesome for them since they have been closed down believe it or not. I like having the fire station across the street from a residence I think it makes me feel secure," said Deb Taylor.

Canton Professional Firefighters Association President Brian Garber applauds Chief Garra for trying to do something creative to increase response times but he also worries about getting the appropriate number of firefighters to a scene in order to do their job.

Garber says by National Fire Protection Association standards the first-arriving fire supression apparatus has to be on scene within 4 minutes at least 90-percent of the time.

He believes the move will improve that.

But he says the same standards call for a full complement of fifteen firefighters to be on scene within 8 minutes of the initial call at least 90-percent of the time.

Garber says the department currently falls short of that mark and he is concerned that spreading out the personnel and equipment might actually make it worse.

Canton's Safety Director Andrea Perry tells Fox 8 News there are currently no discussions about increasing the funding or the number of personnel at the fire department and no discussions are planned.

Garber says the city will be hiring several new firefighters in the coming weeks, but they will only replace others who are retiring.

Ten of the 144 firefighters currently on staff were hired using a federal SAFER Grant that will expire in about a year and a half.

"Overall I applaud the chief in trying to find a creative way to improve response time, but the only true fix is to hire more firefighters," said Garber.

"Spreading out is not the ideal situation. We are just trying to work with the situation we have with manpower," said Garra.