SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) - Firefighters in Springfield say they're operating with a bare bones department and they need more help.
22News I-Team Reporter Laura Hutchinson did some investigating to see how that department compares with those in other cities.
The Springfield Fire Commissioner says they've lost a lot of personnel over the last decade and they're starting to run thin.
"Anyone can see that we can't handle the things that we used to be able to handle," said Aid to the Fire Commissioner, Dennis Leger.
Springfield Fire officials say after years of budget cuts the department is starting to wear thin.
"In 1991 we had 418 firefighters, now we're down to 220 so the numbers are pretty staggering," said Springfield Fire Commissioner Joseph Conant.
Commissioner Conant says in the last 20 years they've lost about half their personnel, but the number of emergencies they respond to has remained steady.
"We're using so much overtime, that you have the same people continuously working," Conant said.
To give some perspective, the 22News I-Team looked into the staffing of other departments in similar sized cities.
Springfield falls in between Worcester, Hartford and New Haven, Connecticut by population.
But you can see the number of fire fighters is less in Springfield.
The number of firefighters in Springfield is closer to that in Lowell, although population is much different.
Population - 181,631
Number of fire fighters – 396
Population – 153,155
Number of fire fighters – 220
Population – 129,585
Number of fire fighters – 325
Population - 124,867
Number of fire fighters – 370
Population – 107,584
Number of fire fighters – 201
We shared these numbers with Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno.
"I've got to be honest with you, I cannot come across and say that you're going to see an extra 50 or 100 firefighters," Sarno said.
Sarno says proposition 2 1/2 state law, that caps property taxes at 2.5%, makes it impossible to hire the number of personnel they need, only keep it where it is at best.
He's been to Boston a few times to ask lawmakers for help.
"I'm for prop 2 1/2, don't get me wrong but I think the framers of prop 2 1/2 30 odd years ago didn't realize communities were going to reach their tax levies so soon," Sarno added.
To make ends meet, Commissioner Conant says there are 3 men on a fire truck now rather than the 5 there used to be. They're also calling in surrounding communities to help more frequently.
He says they've already taken a number of ladder trucks off the road, leaving them nothing else to cut.
"95% of our budget is personnel so when it comes time to cut, all you can do is cut personnel," Conant said.
Sarno also says he hopes Springfield is chosen to host a casino because they included expanded public safety into the community host agreement with MGM.