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Reading Fire Academy graduates first class in 5 years

Published On: Dec 06 2012 07:00:00 PM EST   Updated On: Dec 07 2012 11:46:58 PM EST

Reading Fire Academy graduates first class in five years


One of the busiest fire departments in Pennsylvania graduated its first class of recruits in five years.

For years, a lack of manpower has left firefighters in Reading stretched thin, but help is on the way.

The fire academy held their graduation ceremonies Friday night.

From an apartment building dating back to the 1800's, to an arson case at a vacant home, Reading averages a working fire in the city every three days, said officials.

Firefighters are up against heavy flames, and for the past five years, they said a shortage in the department has caused skyrocketing injuries.

"The injury rate has increased at least 40 percent since our staffing levels went down," said Mike Shoumlisky, president of the Reading firefighters union.

Since 2007, we've lost approximately 30 members due to retirement, and since that time hired no one," said Lt. Sean Hart, a training officer with the Reading fire academy.

That streak was put out Friday. Eleven fire recruits were added to the ranks. They spent 180 days in the academy, and come next week they will hit the ground running.

"Anybody that wants to be part of the fire service wants to keep busy and get that experience. I think that's what drew me the most out here," said Matt Staley, a new recruit originally from Dayton, Ohio.

Reading is the third busiest department in the state, only Philadelphia and Pittsburg run more calls. The new recruits will help bring staffing numbers up, but for safety reasons, officials still want to hire more.

"Although we're up to what the contract calls for now, it's still not safe. The injuries are still much higher than they used to be under the 22 man minimum," said Shoumlisky.

Nowadays, that contract calls for 18 firefighters per shift, plus three extra guys to cover vacations and sick leave.

"A lot of guys are working many hours of overtime to cover the gaps because someone has to be here at all times," said Shoumlisky.

The department is hoping to add even more staffing in the near future. The goal is to bring numbers back to where they were five years ago.

The graduation ceremony was held at the Reading Hospital School of Health Sciences.