Despite a new $200 million budget getting approved by Youngstown City Council, which included money to hire more firefighters, the union representing Youngstown firefighters has concerns.

"The ten firefighters they are planning on hiring, if it is ten, we are so short staffed right now, we will obviously take that, but we don't know if that is going to completely fix the problem," said Union President John Racco.

The problem, Racco says, is the continuation of the temporary closing of fire stations on a rotating basis. Every two weeks a fire station closes because of low staffing.

"Since 2018, we are actually down 19 firefighters. Currently we are at 108 firefighters, we were at 127," Racco said. "Recently we had a fire that was an occupied fire, it was right down the street from the fire station, it was less than half a mile and that station was closed that day. Our firefighters did an excellent job making up what they could time wise but fire doubles in size every 30 seconds so when we do come out and say seconds count, they do. Now we are pulling a fire station from the other side of town to come and when we had a perfectly capable fire station a half a mile away, it's unacceptable to us."

With an influx of ARP money, Racco says the administration should pour more money into the fire department to shore up staffing.

"I think our biggest thing is properly staff the fire department, that has been one of our frustrations since the start of this administration," Racco said. "We've explained our case over and over and over. It feels to us that it's on deaf ears and it's putting everyone at risk. It's putting our firefighters at risk, our citizens at risk and they deserve better."

The administration says they are indeed trying to shore up staffing and boost manpower in the fire department, just maybe not the level the union thinks it should be. 

"We set a baseline, which we had not done in some time, so we are setting that baseline, we are continuing to recruit and bring in more men and women because if you have attrition rate where individuals are leaving, we want to make sure we kind of keep the pace of making sure we have the men and women there to fill those seats," Youngstown Mayor Tito Brown said.

Brown thanked city council for including more money for the fire department but says the department needs to correct its issue of frequent call-offs.

"If it's closing them down because people are calling off, we need people more to start coming to work," Mayor Brown said. "We are going to continue to work towards the baseline, working with the unions but it's one thing to say yeah, this is what we need but also, we have the men and women to cover those shifts, if they come to work. We are working with them, we're trying to get the baseline but individuals have to realize that is why we have them in those positions, we have seats to fill, people are in those seats, they need to come and fill them."

Racco responded to Brown about the call-offs. 

"Prior to 2018, when the fire department was at adequate staffing, call-offs were not a problem," Racco said. "We did not close trucks and did not close stations. Call-offs did not become a problem until this administration chose saving money over safety - and looked for something to blame it on. The fact that the stations are still being closed even when there are no call-offs simply proves this."

Brown says they plan to hire five new firefighters in the next 7-to-10 days which will help them get to their baseline staffing. He says they will continue to recruit highly qualified candidates because that's what they need for the high demand job.

The firefighter union says they are cautiously optimistic the new firefighters will help but are afraid it won't stop the closings of the stations.

"This is a trying time for us and we're trying to keep it together and move forward but there are things that we need, to do that," Racco said. "All we can do is keep voicing our concerns and try to explain to them that this is putting peoples lives and property at risk."