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Shortage of staff is cause for alarm, fire chief says PDF Print E-mail
Written by JOE POIRIER   
Wednesday, 21 June 2017 19:57

Department aims to increase full-time staff as volunteers go elsewhere

    Grafton Fire Department Chief William Rice warned the Public Safety Committee last week that the department needs more full-time members if it wants to do its job effectively.
    “We’ve talked about the future of the fire department’s staffing and the unpredictably of the model we use, which relies on volunteers,” Rice said at the June 13 meeting. “I’m concerned it’s a system of staffing that is not sustainable. At times we’re on somewhat of a roller coaster to fill in the gaps (in staffing), especially during the weekends.”
    The fire department has two full-time members, which include Rice and Division Chief Matt Karpinski, and approximately 65 paid on-call volunteers. Rice said he is also concerned about losing certified firefighters and EMTs, who could leave the area to find full-time work at other departments.
    “The trend is outpacing my ability to find new people. At some point we’re going to start seeing more gaps,” Rice said. “Last week we lost a volunteer who is a firefighter and paramedic to the City of Manitowoc Fire Department.”
    About one-third of the department’s volunteers help with emergency medical services, another third work strictly as firefighters, and the remaining volunteers fulfill both roles.
    Rice said if he were to hire more full-time staff, the new employees would have to cover paramedic and firefighting duties.
    “If we’re paying someone to be here, we need them to serve both roles. It’s inefficient to pay for a firefighter who can’t do EMS work and vice versa,” Rice said. “In the future, we have to see it as a combined function.”
    Currently, there are three employees from the department of public works and one water department employee who are members with the fire department.
    In 2013, when the Village of Grafton became a municipal fire department, a greater emphasis was placed on having new public works and water departments’ hires attain firefighter certifications.
    Rice said his greatest concern with the staffing shortfall is finding volunteers for emergency medical services.
    “It’s a very desperate feeling for me as a fire chief,” he said. “Grafton’s growth has outpaced the high volume of calls for EMS.”
    Rice also said he relies on mutual aid from other departments in Ozaukee County to assist with emergency calls, which is common among other communities.
    “The long-term solution is to have a combination of communities that have full-time, part-time and paid on-call employees,” he said. “But I’ve also seen how long it takes for consolidation to happen.”
    The reason behind the shortfall in volunteers is that people’s schedules are less flexible between work and family, as opposed to previous generations of volunteers, according to Rice.
    Rice said he doesn’t have a proposed timeline or budget yet in place to decide when and how the department will hire more full-time employees but he will look into it.
    “There’s a financial reality we have to deal with,” he said. “But the most important thing is we’re talking about it right now, and that’s how communities make good decisions.”

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