HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - The Hattiesburg Fire Department responds to hundreds of calls a week and the most important aspect of the department is manpower, which they are lacking.
"Right now we got a lot of guys that are working overtime on other shifts, and a lot of times we allow them to work about two shifts in a row, then we send them home because they are exhausted," Hattiesburg Fire Chief Paul Presley said.
Currently the department is working with 89 firefighters, but it slotted for 120 on its roster.
Pay and competitive salaries from surrounding departments are the main reason for the decline in numbers.
"The guys are leaving to go to other department, that's one of the biggest reasons," Presley said. "They are starting a little more, I think Petal is even starting more, and of course you got the ones on the coast, and other cities our size are starting guys out at ($30,000), that's the big reason."
At the Hattiesburg Fire Department, if the guys graduate the academy, they will bring in right at $27,600.
Despite the changes, the city of Hattiesburg has not seen a change in the fire rating, but with manpower numbers dipping to minimal staffing, it could be in jeopardy.
"It could hurt the fire rating," Presley said. "Right now we are currently a four, and we have got to get our numbers up where we can keep that 4 rating."
Adding more members to the department, changing the number of crew per truck and a change in equipment could bump the department to a class three rating, but that would come at a cost to the city.
Right now, Presley's main concern is adding guys to the department's roster.
"We have been actually going to schools, talking to kids at churches and things like that, trying to reach out in this community a little more than we have in the past," Presley said.
The community outreach has seemed to help, and they are slotted to start an academy in November with 15 local men.
"That's going to help a lot, just with the manpower and having those extra set of hands," Presley said. "We are hurting for guys to work, we aren't to the point of having to close stations, but any amount of guys we could get to add to the department would help a ton."
Presley said there is no dip in coverage, or any tendency that the city is not covered, just that guys are working overtime, and stretched thin.
"For anyone that is interested, even a high school or college graduate, you can contact the department or come by, we have plenty of information and can get you lined up to go in another class in the early part of 2016," Presley said.