For the first time since it was put in place at the beginning of the year, the Fire Department's staffing policy is being publicly criticized.
The criticism came in the wake of Wednesday's fire that extensively damaged a fifth-floor apartment at the Hotel Jamestown and caused heavy smoke damage to the other floors of the historic structure.
Senior citizens who live in the nine-story building, which also houses several downtown offices, were leveling the attacks on the City Council's staffing policy for the fire department.
The most vocal was Barbara Lashbrook, a disabled woman who lives on the eighth floor, who was not in the building when the fire broke out.
"Everyone's been trying to sign petitions . . . about the concerns of cutting back the fire department with manpower," she said. "There's too many people, and too many elderly in this area alone. These poor guys -- even if they call out another fire department -- by the time they get here we could all be engulfed in flames."
Currently, if staffing levels fall below 12 firefighters during a particular shift, one of four fire halls in the city is closed. The firefighters from that closed hall would report for duty at Station 1, which is in City Hall.
Fire Chief Samuel Arcadipane noted Wednesday that Station 3 on Newland Avenue was closed during the shift on duty when the Jamestown Hotel fire broke out.
Mayor Sam Teresi, who was at the scene for some time after the initial alarm was called in about 12:20 p.m., commended firefighters for their work.
"The situation was handled in a very, very timely manner and handled effectively. No one was seriously injured," he said. "The fire department contained the damage to a small area. There was no further collateral damage to the building. Things worked as intended and designed."
First Ward Councilman Vincent Joy Jr., who chairs the council's Public Safety Committee, echoed much of what Teresi said. He indicated he'd love to have more firefighters, but come fall when lawmakers discuss the budget, they must think of the whole city.
Members of Firefighters Local 1772 said at a council meeting last spring that they were most worried about response time and firefighter safety.
Union President Ronald DeSantis was out of town Thursday and not available to comment on the policy.
Fire investigators, meanwhile, were still looking into the cause of the blaze, which forced evacuation of more than 50 elderly people and office workers.
Arcadipane said Thursday, "We still need to do some additional interviews, again, with the occupant of the room where the fire occurred and the adjacent rooms, so we'll have some information within a day or so as to the exact cause."
He said he was presenting merit awards to members of the department's second-platoon and off-duty firefighters called in to handle the fire at the hotel.
"In the face of unusual and difficult conditions, all members engaged the incident with courage, dedication and personal strength. Considering the outside temperatures and heavy smoke conditions on the fire floor, the determination on part of the attack crews in locating the room of origin . . . was exemplary," Arcadipane said.
The occupant of the one-room apartment sustained minor injuries and was treated at WCA Hospital.