Disney firefighters voice concerns over staffing amid park expansions

Walt Disney World is a busy place, and it's getting even busier with "Star Wars" opening soon, several new resorts and a new gondola system.

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The new transportation system, which carries passengers through the sky, is a special concern for first responders.

Firefighters working at Disney said they were already stretched to the max even before all the new growth started.

Each shift only has two more firefighters than it did back in the '80s despite tremendous growth at Disney during the last four decades.

They say more people should mean more firefighters at a place where money is no object.

"And not leaving the people up there for hours upon hours to get people off the rides. It could be up to 200 cars, I'm being told," said Tim Stromsnes, with Reedy Creek Professional Firefighters.

Before visitors plunge down the most magical roller coasters on earth, they'll soon be able to ride Disney's Skyliner between their resorts and the parks.

With 10 people to a pod, about 2,000 people could be up to 90 feet in the air at a time - and over water in some spots.

Firefighters who cover the parks are concerned about what will happen if the ride ever goes down.

"We're at the max now,” Stromsnes said. “We're just worried that with all this expansion, we're not going to have enough firefighters."

Walt Disney World's property is twice the size of Manhattan and can have a population of up to 350,000 people on its busiest days.

Stromsnes said 32 Reedy Creek firefighters work each shift. He said the fire chief recently requested to hire about 40 more but was only approved for two administrative positions.

"And we got no boots on the ground,” Stromsnes said. “Nobody that could do a gondola rescue or be on the tower truck or on the special ops team. None of those people were hired."

Reedy Creek's district administrator said, "Safety is of utmost importance, which is why we are always focused on the district being a safe place and are confident we provide appropriate levels of fire and medical services."

He also accused the union of trying to negotiate its collective bargaining agreement through the media, which he called inappropriate.

"It has nothing to do with bargaining our contract,” Stromsnes said. “This is about safety. This is about safety of the families who visit Walt Disney World."

WFTV reached out to Disney about this and were told the safety of guests and cast members is and always will be Disney's core focus in operating its parks and resorts.

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