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Fire chief speaks to Kiwanis Club about the needs of the fire department

The Statesboro Fire Department is understaffed and in serious need of new equipment, including replacement of ancient fire trucks including a 1968 fire engine still being used, said Statesboro Fire Chief Dennis Merrifield  Thursday as he spoke to the Statesboro Kiwanis Club.
    With only 33 full time and six part time employees, the fire department cannot meet national requirements that a fire station serving a city the size of Statesboro provide 14 firefighters to respond to a fire within eight minutes, he said.
    "We need 19 additional employees" to meet the standards, he said. "We are understaffed in the City of Statesboro.
    If 19 new employees were hired, it would give the fire department - which is split into two stations, one on Fair Road and one on West Grady Street - 16 employees per shift, he said. Currently there are only 10 firefighters per shift.
    "At any given time, there are only 10 people on duty at one time, at both stations, not each," he said. "That's ... a real challenge to me."
    The Statesboro Fire Department responded last year to 996 emergency calls, 129 of which were structure fires, Merrifield said.
    But handling that many calls in a safe and efficient manner is difficult with a short staff and "antique vehicles," he said. In addition to the 38-year-old fire truck still in use, a second truck is a 1980 model, and its maker is out of business. To repair the truck, parts had to me made in a machine shop, he said. There are two other older vehicles that need replacing as well.
    Statesboro is only just over 13 square miles, but the Statesboro Fire Department's jurisdiction doesn't end at the city limits, he told Kiwanis Club members. "What people don't realize is the Statesboro Fire Department doesn't just protect 13 square miles. We protect 94 square miles."
    The department responds to fire emergencies within a five mile radius of the city limits, he said.
    Trying to compare the fire department with the police department is like comparing apples and oranges, he said, but the police department has over 70 employees and serves only areas inside the city limits, he said. There is disparity, and "you can't compare," he said.
    Merrifield also recommended people keep smoke detectors in their homes and to have a safety plan in case of fire. Often people will tell firefighters someone is still inside the building when the person is actually outside. "Firefighters will charge hell with a water pistol to save a life," he said, and if people adhere to a safety plan, everyone can congregate at a designated point and this will prevent a firefighter entering the burning building to save someone who is already safe.
    Over 4,000 people will die this year form fires, he said. Most house fires are due to cooking issues, he said.

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