Firefighter shortage not helping catch arsonist

ROSWELL, N.M. (KRQE) – Twenty cars in Roswell have been set on fire in sine November. Investigators say an arsonist has torched trucks, minivans, SUV’s and even homes.

Now, when the community needs the firefighters’ help more than ever, the department is facing a new problem.

“Right now the City of Roswell Fire Department we are short 13 personnel,” said Deputy Fire Chief Devin Graham.

On September 1, 2014 they’ll be short two more firefighters leaving the department with 15 open slots.

Chief Deputy Graham says all of his staff have had to pick up extra shifts just to make ends meet. Add that on top of one of the biggest arson investigations Roswell has ever had and you get a culmination of things.

“There is a lot of stress and work that goes a long with it for those additional shifts that are worked,” said Graham.

That’s why they’ve started a recruitment campaign. They’ve posted signs outside local fire stations, taken ads out in the newspaper and used social media to spread the word.

“Making the public aware that we are short handed and we are taking applications,” said Graham.

The department says its hoping the more people they can recruit, the more time they can focus on catching the city’s fire bug. Officials say it’s their top priority, but it’s difficult with only 78 firefighters working for the 91 that the city budgets for.

“This investigation does take a toll on the guys and we sure hope the new employees we get through this recruitment process will help offset that,” said Graham.

In 2013 the department spent about $700,000 in overtime because they were understaffed.

They say this year that number could be even higher.

Officials say oil field competition is to blame for the low employee numbers.

Fire recruit applications are available on the city’s website.

Roswell has state and federal agencies investigating the arsons as well.

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