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Cornelius News

Shifts going uncovered at Cornelius fire station

June 11. By Dave Vieser. Cornelius Fire Station No. 2, located on Charles Towne Lane off Jetton Road, has been shut down four times since the beginning of the year due to a manpower shortage. The most recent closure was during the daytime shift on Sunday June 10. Coverage was provided by the department’s Station No. 1 on Main Street.

Fire Chief Neal Smith said the temporary shut-downs have been caused by several issues.  “Personnel had reached their maximum number of hours and we do not pay for overtime. Also, we had firefighters that were out for injuries, or become sick when they were scheduled to work.”

Smith said family schedules and other commitments also directly affect the department’s ability to cover shifts. This includes vacations, and spouse’s work schedules.

“Retention also plays a part in the abilities to cover shifts,” he added. We lost three personnel in May and they are not quickly replaced, so covering their shifts becomes difficult.”

Recent developments with the town budget should help the situation, he said.

“The increase in pay approved last week will help with the retention of our members since all the departments in our area are pulling from the same pot of firefighters who work full time in Charlotte, Concord, Denver and Gastonia.” The fire department did not get the four additional positions Smith asked for in the FY 2018-19 budget.

At the present time, the department has 70-75 firefighters on their roster. About 60 work part-time elsewhere. The extensive training required by the state also has an impact on how quickly firefighters can be replaced.

Despite the missed shifts at Station Two, department records indicate that 96 percent of the shifts on an annualized basis have been covered. Smith emphasized that the Cornelius community was never without coverage since Station No. 1—the headquarters—was always staffed 24/7.

With the new budget adopted, department officials plan to develop a strategic plan to address   all of the manpower issues. The plan will include suggestions on manpower (part-time or full) positions, as well as whether the department should merge with the town or remain a separate entity.

Cornelius is well-known for its low tax rate as well as amenities like the artistic “mast and sails” design at Exit 28 and the bandshell at Bailey Road Park. Town officials are also discussing the need for a third fire station, possibly on Westmoreland.