HFD faces severe staffing shortage headed into Christmas holiday

Firefighters working OT won’t fill massive gap

HOUSTONThis story has been edited and updated to reflect the most recent HFD COVID-19 quarantine figures.

Already facing a severe staffing shortage, the Houston Fire Department is expected to hit a new low mark on Christmas Day.

The staffing issue, largely attributed to firefighters leaving for other jobs, has already produced expensive overtime costs and millions of dollars of life-saving equipment left parked in firehouses.

KPRC 2 Investigates has viewed documentation that shows Christmas Eve will start with 152 fewer firefighters than the national minimal staffing standards. While on Christmas Day the number is expected to rise to 224 firefighters.

HPD Chief Sam Pena did not respond Wednesday to requests for comment about the staffing crisis nor did two other HFD staff members, including a Public Information Officer.

The staffing shortage numbers will be mitigated somewhat by firefighters who will hold over to work overtime shifts.

But the pricey option for taxpayers also yields firefighters who are more tired and less sharp, according to HPFFA Patrick “Marty” Lancton, who is presently not being paid his city salary, following a dispute over his role with the Houston Fire Department.

Staffing shortages also lead to so-called “brown-outs,” apparatus, quite often $900,000 ladder trucks, that are idled because there is not enough staff to safely operate the equipment.

“You can call it idle. You can call it out-of-service. You can call it brown-out. Whatever the Chief and Mayor want to call it. The fact of the matter is that apparatus will not be responding in our citizens’ time of need when they dial 911,” Lancton said.

On Wednesday, four ladder trucks were among the equipment sitting parked.

COVID-19 plays a role in the shortages, but how much of a role is unclear because HFD no longer releases daily firefighter quarantine data.

Our request for the newest quarantine data from the Houston Fire Department went unanswered before the story aired.

KPRC 2 Investigates obtained what is believed to be the last inter-departmental “COVID-19 report”.

The document was dated Nov. 30, 2020, when 126 total personnel were listed as quarantined, although the figure also included non-firefighter employees.

On Dec. 21, Chief Pena said in a press conference that 180 members of the Houston Fire Department were in quarantine.