Small fire department in growing Jefferson County faces cutbacks

HOUSE SPRINGS, Mo. – Thousands in the St. Louis area may soon face a growing threat from fires with fewer firefighters to fight them.

There is so much on the line for Antonia Fire Protection District firefighter Matt Ritter.

Ritter is among 14 firefighters the district is being forced to shed. Six firefighters have already found work elsewhere.

Ritter, a father of three and military veteran who’s been deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan, will be laid off in March.

His co-workers are more like uncles to his kids, ages 21 months to 5 years; two of whom he delivered, himself.

“It’s my second home, my second family, every single person here,” Ritter said.

The district covers 36 square miles and about 23,000 residents, with about 1,200 calls per year.

It used a close to $1.6 million grant from FEMA to hire 14 firefighters two years ago in order to keep two trucks with four firefighters each, 24/7.

Four firefighters per truck is an industry standard, said Chief Mike Arnhart.

The district may now be forced to cut back to just one truck with three firefighters total because the grant funding has run out and ballot measures that would add around $50 in property taxes on an average home have repeatedly failed.

“Which, obviously, is going to increase response time drastically. In life safety measures, seconds count,” Arnhart said.

“When (residents) call, they’re going to get a fire truck,” Ritter said. “They don’t understand the difference between two people on a truck or four people on a truck. It makes a world of difference.”

The district is sharing the news on Facebook in a series of #FarewellFriday posts.
Today’s post featured Ritter’s personal story.

“No, it’s not a guilt trip,” Arnhart said.

It is reality.

The district will apply for another FEMA grant but was refused in its last attempt.

The district board will have to finalize staffing/scheduling changes by March. The changes could include the complete closure of a firehouse, Arnhart said.

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