Much of the country is just now waking up to the dire state that fire departments are in currently. Article after article is appearing in local, state, and national news about firefighter staffing shortages, emergency first responder recruiting, and fire station brownouts. The San Diego Fire-Rescue Department “was forced to take multiple engines and special units out of service, under an emergency brown-out, due to lack of personnel” earlier this month. Civilians are looking on in shock and horror as their local stations decline medical calls due to a lack of available responders. It is devastating, surely, but firefighters have seen this coming for quite some time. We wish we were surprised by this seemingly sudden influx of dire staffing shortages, but we aren’t. This has been a long time coming.
Resources and financial support for local fire departments having been eroding in America for quite some time. Citizens have taken for granted that firefighters and EMS personnel would continue to be able to provide life saving services, even as levies and ballot measures that would provide necessary funding failed time and time again. Friend of Firefighters & EMS Fund and Fire Chief of Refugee Canyon Fire District told us that his district in Ohio “has always supported fire and EMS issues on the ballot long before I began my fire service career in 1980.” However, “This district has been embattled for years by a movement to reduce tax bills for wealthier households in the area by a few hundred dollars through cutting emergency response capabilities… False claims made through advertisements about wasteful spending have gone unchecked and have swayed voters in more than one election. As of January 1 2022, fire and EMS personnel on duty each day have been reduced from eight to four, and the most recently opened station, aimed at further reducing response times, has been closed.”
Fire departments in Maine, Pennsylvania, California, Wisconsin, and other states are requesting emergency assistance as they face critical staffing shortages. “The Maine Fire Chiefs’ Association has sent a letter to Governor Mills asking for just under $4 million for immediate and long term help,” Firefighter Close Calls shares. “Staff shortages force N.C. EMS agency to ask FEMA for ‘ambulance strike teams’” announces a headline on EMS1.com. We are seeing the results of years of neglect come to a fever pitch in 2022.
This, of course, has been exacerbated by COVID-19. But the critical staffing shortages and brownouts are not because of COVID-19, the virus has simply turned up the heat and sped up this impending disaster. The global pandemic took a problem that had already existed and added enough stress to an already strained system to bring it fully to its knees.
And the craziest part of all of this is how simple the solution to this massive problem is… Ask any firefighter, EMS personnel, or Fire Chief what they need to fix this problem, and you know what they’ll say? Support and resources. They need ballot measures and tax levies to be passed. They need better state and federal funding. The ability to recruit and properly train new staff.
Trust that fire departments & EMS agencies know what they need. Vote YES when they request much-needed funding for equipment, training, and pay. Support your local fire departments, it’s as easy as that. Understand that they have been on the frontlines for your communities throughout the years and can only continue to protect and serve if they have the proper equipment, resources, and staffing to do so.
For months, Firefighters and EMS Fund has been involved in supporting one fire district in Licking County Ohio, the Refugee Canyon Fire District. As of January 1 2022, fire and EMS personnel on duty each day have been reduced from eight to four, and the most recently opened station, aimed at further reducing response times, has been closed. Fire Chief Clifford Mason lends his perspective here.