Staffing issues stretch the Fairbanks Fire Department thin

Published: Sep. 29, 2021 at 5:35 PM AKDT
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - The Fairbanks Fire Department is on track to respond to a record number of calls this year. According to Fairbanks Firefighters Union President, Nick Clark, the department receives 19 calls a day on average which is around 17,000 calls a year.

“Our calls have been going up in the ball park of 300-600 each year and that is in addition to what we have already been doing,” Clark said. However, the staffing levels have remained the same for many years, “With the amount of calls we are adding each year, we are quickly going to be out of where that optimal range is and what we can handle.”

Clark said that each shift has 11 people on duty but that number should be at least 13 but preferably 15 for each shift. The lack of staffing means they can’t respond to calls as quickly as they should.

“When all of our apparatus is on other emergency calls, the calls will go into what is called a stack. And the stack is where they wait until another apparatus is available to go on that call,” Clark said.

He said that this can be dangerous for those in need, “You are talking about fires, you are talking about somebody having a heart attack, a stroke, which is time critical. So, if we are unable to make it to those calls, those people are waiting.”

Earlier this week, a lack of staffing left only one engine available to respond to a house fire.

“We just didn’t have the people that we needed right off the bat. Three people fighting the fire is not safe for our members, it’s not safe for the community and it’s just not okay. It doesn’t meet the standard of the service we should be offering,” Clark said they had to rely on help from the University Fire Department and Fort Wainwright Fire Department to help with the fire.

The problem isn’t just getting new staff, according to Clark, retaining staff is a big challenge.

“We have a staffing issue because we can’t retain people, we can’t hire people that are going to stay. So for example, right now we are sitting at new members who are coming in and staying with the Fairbanks Fire Department for about two and a half years,” he said. This causes a lack of experience at the department and makes it difficult to hire qualified people for supervisory positions.

Clark said until they are able to offer better wages and benefits, he expects the problem to continue.

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