Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Providence Fire Department short staffed

J-E News Editor
The Providence Fire and Ambulance service has struggled through the holiday season shorthanded. At full staff the department would have a complement of 10 full-time  firefighter/ambulance crew members on staff, but currently the department is working with just four. There have been days in the last few months where that number has been as low as two.
This is particularly troublesome considering that regulations require two crew members on an ambulance.

“There is a dangerous shortage of EMTs in our region,” said Providence Fire Chief Brad Curry. “We’ve had to make a lot of concessions to keep things going, but we struggle. I just don’t understand why we can’t get more local people interested.”
The city of Providence has maintained a full-time ambulance service for 39 years. On January 1, 1976 funeral homes stopped answering emergency calls, and the city hired four ambulance drivers. It maintained that number until recent budget cuts, where it dropped to three.
In Providence, however, all of the full-time staff is cross trained to fight fires and to serve as EMTs. This has allowed the city to maintain it’s emergency services, especially as the number of fire calls and ambulance calls have swapped places.
“In 1976 we had a lot more house fires to fight and a lot less ambulance runs to make,” Curry explained. 
He said that in late 70’s the city averaged 500 ambulance runs per year but in 2014 the city made over 800 ambulance runs. During that same period the number of house fires has dropped drastically.
Curry said that Providence has a program that helps new recruits get started. There are employees on staff certified to handle the fire fighting portion of the training, and the city offers a scholarship program that will allow new hires to get their EMT certifications.
But finding local people interested in the career has not been easy. Recruiting meetings held locally have shown little results. Curry has found and hired more fire fighters by advertising regionally, but those recruits tend to come from larger communities where fire fighters make more money. He recently lost two fire fighters from Evansville to departments that were closer to home.
“I would really love to see more local people show an interest in a career with the fire department,” said Curry. “It’s a rewarding job. The pay isn’t horrible. You get a lot of days off. If you don’t have a criminal record and you’re capable, come down and talk to me.”
One of the major concessions the fire department has had to make is to utilize part-time fire fighters. That, according to Curry, is one thing that the fire department historically did not allow.
“We’ve had to make the best of things,” he said. “We’ve got four full-time firemen and the rest are part-time guys who work at other fire departments and ambulance services. Even with them, some days we just do not have enough people.”
Curry said he has also attempted to recruit volunteer firemen to the force, without much luck. There seems to be some thought that hiring volunteers is a step in the wrong direction, but that, according to Curry, is a misconception.
“When I hired in we had a large volunteer fire department,” he said. “We also had a large full-time fire department that was made up of people who lived within the city limits.”
According to Chief Curry, the city volunteer fire department isn’t really volunteer. 
“Those guys get paid minimum wage while training or fighting fires,” he explained. “It wouldn’t be unusual for a volunteer to make $100 a month.”

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