Retirement, firefighters hired away force Del City fire station to close

DEL CITY, Okla. - City and fire officials say a "perfect storm" has led to the closure of one of two of the city's fire stations and response times could go up as a result.

The city closed Fire Station 2, near S.E. 44th and Epperly, Monday after it became clear numbers of retiring firefighters and at least three firefighters hired by another metro fire department would create staffing problems, officials say.

"Friday, we met with city management, laid everything out," said Maj. Brandon Pursell, the fire department's public information officer. "We’re three down (to retirement), going in to it and we just received information that three (fire fighters) are going to Oklahoma City."

The department receives, on average, roughly 3,600 calls for service each year, ranging from fire to medical calls.

Pursell says with the normal staffing number of 25 firefighters brought down to 17 (two other firefighters are on long-term injury) by September, the only solution was to consolidate the remaining firefighters at Station 1 and put Station 2 out of service. Their experience -- or lack of it -- also played a factor.

"It’s not a lack of confidence, it’s just a lack of experience. So the decision was made to take the rescue out of service and put those six guys among the two trucks," Pursell said.

No firefighters are losing their jobs as a part of the closure. The six firefighters have been moved back to Station 1 on the city's north side and moved between different crews.

City officials say a $500,000 decrease in sales tax revenue -- which goes towards paying police and firefighters' salaries -- hasn't helped matters.

"We pay a good salary, our problem is we cannot match other metro departments' pay and it's near impossible to meet those salaries," said City Manager Mark Edwards.

Pursell says losing qualified firefighters to jobs at other departments has been a common trend.

"(We're) trying to retain them. So the investment that we put in to those firefighters, we lose to neighboring communities and that’s the upsetting part for our citizens and for our fire department is just that lack of experience and lack of training, that we lose when they go somewhere else," Pursell said.

The closure came as a surprise and earlier than anticipated. The city is currently building a new multi-million dollar fire house at S.E. 28th and Epperly. Once completed, plans called for Station 2 - a converted public works building - to be shuttered.  The new facility would become Station 1, with the current headquarters on S.E. 15th renamed as Station 2.

Fire officials say hiring to fill the open positions is being done -- but that can take months before a candidate is hired, trained and deemed qualified to begin taking calls.

"We’re going to do everything that we can to keep this impact minimal," said Pursell. "But we are expecting that we’re not going to respond as quick, especially to the south end of town."