BLUFFTON, Ind. (WANE) — A growing population in Bluffton is leading to many predictable changes, however, one change many don’t think about is the need for fire trucks and stations on the ready-in case the unexpected happens.
Over the next two years, the Bluffton Fire Department (BFD) is asking for two new fire stations and more manpower.
“We want to be in front of that and not behind it,” Bluffton Fire Chief Don Craig said. “We don’t want to go in front of the council and say we really messed up that the community messed up, the community grew but we are not where we need to protect them.”
In 2020, Chief Don Craig went to the Bluffton City Council to ask for a bigger budget. The main reason was the need for more firefighters.
The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) is an international nonprofit organization devoted to eliminating death, injury, property, and economic loss due to fire, electrical and related hazards. NFPA’s national recommendation is to have at least 6 firefighters working one truck.
Indiana Occupational Safety and Health Administration (IOSHA) also mandates the number of firefighters on a fire truck: two on the truck to operate, while two to go into a burning building.
Currently, BFD has two paid firefighters on duty during a 24-hour shift. The station also has an engineer that works Monday through Friday. During the day the chief and assistant chief are also in the station. However, after 4 p.m. there is only two crew members on duty. Craig says there has been times the crew were called to a fire and had to choose, go to the burning building or wait for backup.
“It wasn’t a huge life-threatening fire but at the end of the day we sent a fighter fire in a burning building by himself,” Craig said. “That’s not how we need to operate, that’s now how we take care of our firemen, that’s not how we need to take care of our community. We are not operating to IOSHA standard and I believe we have a council and a mayor that don’t want to see that. ”
Mayor John Whicker organized a task force to see what the fire department needs to properly serve and protect the community. The committee consisted of local leaders and Chief Craig. This week the committee showcased their findings to the public.
The first was that the fire department’s present staffing model of two firefighters per 24-hour shift failed to meet fire protection standards and poses a significant risk to firefighters. BFD’s current fire station, located in downtown Bluffton was inadequate in size. The station has 14 pieces of equipment in a firehouse that only has room for eight, meaning nearly half of the equipment is left outside. The study also found that there was no way for the station to grew both in size. There is also no way to accommodate a gender-diverse staff.
“Our fire department covers 96 square miles,” Craig said. “We try to cover it from our central location and we are minutes out from the further out place we cover. So if we can get a station on either edge of the city it gets us closer to our rural emergencies.”
The two new fire stations that Craig and the task force are asking for would be placed in the areas of 200 North and 200 South. With one station north of town and the other south Craig says the department would no longer be stopped by trains. He also says that no matter where a fire would be called out in the city, both stations would respond.
With the development boom that is going on in both Bluffton and Wells Counties, Craig says he’s hoping the city will be proactive but acting on the station and staff increases.
“If we wait too long to build a station in the areas that we are growing, there may not be any land available,” Craig said. “So we are trying to get in front of it be ready and be staffed to handle any emergency needs that come to us.”
Right now the chief wants six firefighters per shift, that way each station would have three each. Though the chief wants six, the city only has the budget to add four. However, Craig believes that he could use part-time and on-call staff to help stay at the capacity needed so both trucks are staffed.
Whether the department gets more staff or the new stations is up to the council and mayor who will crunch the numbers in the upcoming weeks. Craig says that if he gets more staff he will be happy but the city would then need to address the living concerns, which includes accommodating a gender-diverse staff.