City and firefighters respond to shutdown of Engine 16 in Savannah

Picture of Savannah Fire's Engine 16 on Thursday. (Caitlyn Penter WTGS)

Yesterday, Savannah firefighters said they got an email saying that Engine 16 was being shut down, and that all firefighters would be redistributed within the department.

Engine 16 is a primarily water rescue crew that also assists with fire calls in downtown Savannah.

Johnny Hinton is the interim president of the Savannah Professional Firefighters Association. He said he was finishing lunch yesterday when he saw the email.

"Yesterday afternoon, probably just after lunch time around 1," said Hinton.

He said he and other firefighters had no prior warning. But according to Savannah Alderman Julian Miller, this has been in the works for a while and the engine was supposed to be shut down months ago due to budgetary constraints on the city.

"I knew it was not supposed to be any longer back when we had our budget meetings 11 months ago," said Miller. He said that's when Savannah Fire was notified by the city manager to immediately shut down Engine 16.

"We made it plain we were not supposed to have that engine anymore. It was not fulfilling the needs we had," said Miller.

According to Miller, Engine 16 has been operating without permission for months.

"We understand that even though personnel were not assigned to Engine 16, the fire department was sending firefighters over on overtime basis to staff the boat," said Miller.

He said that's when City Manager Rob Hernandez stepped in.

"When the city manager learned that, he sent out an order that we would no longer be doing that," said Miller.

He said all of this has cost the city money.

"We're talking about a half a million dollars a year to just staff the company that mans the boat that has not been used on a fire since we got it," said Miller.

The City of Savannah said something else. Ken Slats, the interim public information officer for the city, said Hernandez never ordered the engine to stop working.

"There have been talks and the fire manager was here Chief Middleton was here and they've talked about it for quite some time," he said. "There were no plans to immediately shut down any engine."

Hernandez was unavailable for comment, according to the city.

On Thursday afternoon, members from Engine 16 paid a visit to the fire boat still docked on the Savannah River.

According to Hinton, there were firefighters specifically assigned to Engine 16, contrary to what Miller said. Hinton said the boat crew was involved in multiple marine rescues along the river throughout its years of service. Engine 16 was first on scene at the River St. dock collapse in November of 2016 and the firefighter who died that day was from Engine 16.

Hinton said water rescue response will likely take longer, and if there is a fire downtown, Engine 16 won't be there for backup like they usually are.

"Any time you talk a reduction in staff, a reduction in response, somebody's ultimately going to pay the price somewhere," said Hinton.

Hinton said Engine 16 would usually help respond to downtown calls so that outskirts stations wouldn't have to travel out of their way.

The city said nothing's going to change with respect to emergency response times.

"We still have plenty of fire stations throughout the area to serve what they need to," said Slats.

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