Witnesses say Tuesday's fire shows Columbia needs more firefighters

COLUMBIA, Mo. - A home on Park Avenue in Central Columbia almost completely burned before the fire department was able to arrive...even though the station was only a block away.

Witnesses to the fire told ABC 17 News it seemed to take forever before they heard sirens.

"It seemed like forever but it's hard to say because everything moved so quickly," witness George Batek said. "People near me were wondering where the fire trucks were!"

In reality, Battalion Chief Brad Fraizer with the Columbia Fire Department said crews were on scene in two minutes.

But Batek said he doesn't fault the fire department for taking a few minutes to show up.  Especially because they have to get gear on and prepare the truck before arrival.

Instead, he said this fire shows why Columbia needs more firefighters.

"This is a case in point where having more folks available means more full time firefighters ready to go for our community and that's never a bad thing," Batek said.

The numbers seem to agree; in fact, Deputy Chief Randy White said there have already been 650 more calls this year than there were at this time last year.

And of the calls the firefighters are dispatched to, nearly 13% took longer than 4 minutes to respond to.

Compare that to 2009 -- when only 8.5% of calls took that long.

It could be because Columbia now only has 1.16 firefighters per 1,000 people, when in 2009, the city had 1.31 firefighters per 1,000 residents.

There will be a ballot issue in November adding 15 firefighters if voters approve a $.30 property tax increase that would also add more Columbia police officers.

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