The following was written by East Pierce Fire and Rescue Chief Bud Backer:
Firefighter staffing is critically short at East Pierce Fire and Rescue during a time when firefighters are working hard to stay up with the increasing demand in call volume. In the first quarter of 2016, we responded to 2,506 alarms—a 15 percent increase over the same period as last year. With the continued growth in our area, we are expecting call volumes to keep climbing.
Currently, funds are not available to increase career staffing. It would take an additional 21 career firefighters just to bring engine-company staffing up to adequate numbers. Add to that the need for another Medic unit in the system, which would require at least six more firefighters, and we would need a total of 27 career firefighters to reach adequate staffing levels.
One way to fill some of the gap is to rely on volunteer firefighters to augment career staffing. Currently, there are 25 volunteer firefighters who donate their time and energy to serve our citizens. Increasing the number of volunteer firefighters who work with a career crew can provide the community with a much needed bridge until additional career firefighters can be hired. However, we need to be clear. Adding more volunteers will not fill those vacant positions 24/7 on each shift. Volunteers can’t be available 24/7/365 because they work other jobs in addition to their family commitments. Turnover is high as volunteers accept permanent firefighter positions elsewhere, move out of the district or leave for personal reasons. Despite those challenges, every hour helps.
While adding volunteers is less expensive than hiring career firefighters, it isn’t free. Each new volunteer costs the fire district approximately $10,000 to equip with the appropriate gear and uniforms, send to the fire academy and train to become emergency medical technicians (EMTs). Once they complete their training, volunteers maintain their skills by attending more than 200 hours per year of weekly drills.
The duties of a volunteer firefighter include: Working with career engine companies to augment staffing levels;
Being available to staff additional units during large incidents and to backfill stations for the next alarm or assist with a disaster response;
Staffing community events and assisting with public education—helping to prevent a tragedy;
Helping to serve their community by being a trained first responder when neighbors need help; and
Gaining valuable training and experience for future employment in the fire service. Many career firefighters began learning their trade as volunteers.
To volunteer, you must live within our service area. This improves your ability to respond when called. Living outside our fire district doesn’t provide for call-back when time is of the essence. Finding volunteers in the Milton and South Prairie areas is a particular priority.
Applications to become an East Pierce volunteer firefighter are currently being accepted until May 31. For more information, visit our website at www.eastpiercefire.org.