Pine Island Fire Department facing critical firefighter shortage

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(ABC 6 News) – It’s no question the nation is facing a worker shortage, but the issue becomes even more concerning when, in times of crisis, there are not enough first responders. That, unfortunately, is the case with the Pine Island Fire Dep. but they are getting creative to find a solution to the problem.

In the last five years, the PIFD has experienced a 38% increase in calls. They used to get around 260 calls per year, but last year there were 450. Fire officials say, this year, there looks like there could be even more.

While there are more calls, there are fewer people to answer. The volunteer department typically has 28 – 30 firefighters, but right now, they are short six people.

“In the last ten years, we’ve seen a trend where you’re seeing fewer applicants applying for open positions,” said Third Assistant Chief with the department, David Friese. “As a result, over the last few years we’ve been struggling to maintain a full roster. Our call volume is going up, so were responding to more emergencies, we’re having to take on more trainings, and it becomes burdensome.”

This leads to burnout, a problem fire departments nationwide are experiencing.

The biggest challenge is having available volunteer firefighters during the day who can leave their day jobs when a call comes in.

“We’re still having issues getting a full truck and it’s pretty demanding for people that even work from home. Luckily, they do have somewhat flexible jobs, but it’s not all the time that we can guarantee that we can get a full truck during the day,” said firefighter Taylor Marsh.

There are plans to change the department in the future. Right now, Pine Island has a volunteer fire department, but Friese says in the next few years, they will most likely transition to a part-time or full-time department.

One of the qualifications to be a firefighter with Pine Island is that you have to live within four to six minutes from the department. This is to ensure that you are able to quickly respond to calls.

While they want to keep this requirement, they may have to look into extending that area in order to better staff their department.