A fire has injured five firefighters and eaten its way through a row of Allentown homes.
Seven places have been affected by the fire on North Eighth Street. It started burning around noon Thursday.
The firefighters union says new staffing rules are making the crews' job harder and more dangerous.
The fire spread so quickly that one house was fully engulfed when fire crews arrived on scene. In the end, six homes were destroyed with at least another damaged.
The department is operating with fewer firefighters than it had been because of the recent arbitration process. The chief said the department did well with the manpower it has.
"[When]Our first trucks got here had heavy fire from the rear of the structure," said Assistant Chief Lee Laubauch.
Residents of the row were quickly evacuated while firefighters got to work.
"As they got up in the one building then the other building caught on fire," said resident Dena Andrews.
Twenty-four firefighters were on duty when the fire started. That's six fewer than what the city is used to. The recent contract arbitration process brought the minimum staffing amount down from 30 to 25.
Only 24 were on duty Thursday because of an absence due to bereavement.
Eight off-duty firefighters were called in to help.
The firefighter's union says the staffing decrease could be dangerous.
"Upon arrival firefighters are tasked with a number of tasks. They have suppression, they have rescue, they have water supply, they have ventilation and with six less people some job doesn't get done effectively," said fire union head John Stribula.
Allentown Fire Chief Robert Schierer said he is proud of the effort his firefighters put in and knows the city can handle the lower numbers.
"As the fire chief I would like to work with as many men as I can, but also as the fire chief I have to work within the city's budget," he said "Things are tight right now. So we have to do what we have to do."
Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski denies the staffing shortage. He told 69 News that the number of structure fires has dropped in the past 10 years but the current contract only takes staffing numbers back to that of 2005.
On its website, Allentown fire union says the number of calls the department responds to is higher than it used to be. It cites numbers from 1996.
The mayor adds that the city recently hired 16 more firefighters who are currently in training.
He blames the reduced number of Allentown City firefighters on a mass retirement by members of the fire department. They mayor says those firefighters wanted to take advantage of high pensions.
Meanwhile the Red Cross set up a center of sorts to help assist the families affected by the fire.
Janice Osbourne of the Red Cross said they're assisting seven families affected by the fire. For more information on how the Red Cross is helping you can call 610-865-4400.