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Fire safety in the Flats

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DOWNTOWN CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) -

Pleasure boats on the river. Food and libation on the West Bank. It's summer in the city.

Not to take the sizzle out of your summer celebration, but what if something happened down in the Flats?

Like the Mother's Day Boat explosion that killed four people, the well publicized drowning and shootings that lead to the demise of the East Bank? Or the raging warehouse fire that lit up the Flats Sky.

With the Flats East Bank now rising from the ashes, an important question needs to be asked: If tragedy strikes, who will respond? and How long would it take to get here?

"You have an office building, you have a hotel. Where's the fast response? It doesn't exist," states Jim Cox of Flats Industry Group.

Where huge freighters navigate the narrow waterway, carrying highly combustible materials from oil to asphalt, with thoughts of new visitors expected in the Flats, there's cause for concern.

"Any firefighter in the city can drive any apparatus, but the fireboat is a specialized piece of equipment, and to function you really need four firefighters," said Michael Norman, Firefighter Union Secretary.

Six trained fireboat operators are assigned to Firehouse-21. But records 19 Action News reviewed show only one or two on any given day, and they're not there to operate the fireboat. They're on stand-by, waiting for assignment to another station low on manpower.

Jim Cox wonders, "What sense does that make? It doesn't make any sense at all. You'd have to ask the fire department why they have such a policy."

And that's what 19 Action news did, posing the same question to fire chief Daryl McGinnis, himself.

"Does it really make sense for them to sit there for two or three hours a day if they could be assigned to a working firehouse, rather than just sitting down there? In my mind, it does," said Chief McGinnis.

But does it really? 8:30 a.m., firefighter Donald McRae reports to Station-21. With no pumper and no other firefighters to staff the fireboat, he waits two hours before getting his assignment: He drives to Firehouse-26 at 78th and Kinsman; miles and minutes from the fireboat he's trained to operate.

The flats fireboat station it remains closed for the next 22 hours. Michael Norman said, "It's a gamble having that fireboat strategy the way it is now. The station is right on collision bend. If you had a situation where a freighter comes up and down the river would catch fire, and burn right in front of a fireboat that's not responding. I think that would be bad for Cleveland for a lot of ways."

Cleveland's fire chief says response time in the Flats won't be compromised by keeping the firehouse closed and reassigning the firefighters. But wait until you see what we caught one of those firefighters doing, while he was supposed to be waiting for his assignment.

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