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I-Team: Firefighter shortages lead to longer response times, higher insurance rates

Published: Thursday, May 02, 2019 @ 6:30 PM
Updated: Friday, May 03, 2019 @ 6:26 AM

An inability to find part-time employees at several Miami Valley fire departments can often mean longer fire or medical emergency response times and higher insurance rates, an I-Team investigation found.

An inability to find part-time employees at several Miami Valley fire departments can often mean longer fire or medical emergency response times and higher insurance rates, an I-Team investigation found.

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"With increased response times, that could truly mean life or death," said Josh Gwin, a Riverside firefighter and President of IAFF Local 2938. "With one threat-to-life call, that completely depletes our resources." 

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Riverside had 40 part-timers in 2016. However, by 2018, that number was down to just 18. Full-time firefighters stayed constant at 16, according to Gwin. 

In West Carrollton, seven full-time and 45 part-time firefighters in 2016 turned into seven full-time and 23 part-timers in 2019. 

"It could end up being a minute or two longer, or in some cases, it could be up to five minutes, depending on where the call is," West Carrollton Fire Chief Chris Barnett said. 

Barnett says when he started his firefighting career in the 1970s, it took him 10 years to find a full-time job. 

"There would be hundreds of people applying for the positions. Nowadays, there aren't that many people who are applying," he said. 

Meanwhile, in 2018, West Carrollton had to brownout or close a medic for 90 days because there were not enough firefighters to staff it. The city has decided to turn two part-time spots into full-time positions. 

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"What we're doing is we're living within the budget we're already designed to have, and we're not adding any money. It's cost neutral to the budget," Barnett said. 

Riverside's city manager told the I-Team the city will apply for a federal SAFER Grant to hire three more full-time firefighters for three years. It plans to keep those firefighters after the grant ends. 

Previous News Center 7 reporting has shown areas like Kettering and Washington Twp. have also transitioned to more full-time departments. 

Meanwhile, Sinclair's fire academy graduates about 200 students a year. 

More than half have jobs before graduations, according to Kip Smith, the director of the program and a retired Beavercreek firefighter. 

"When I started, the training requirements weren't nearly what they are today," Smith said. 

He said when he went through his initial training he had to satisfy a 160-hour requirement. 

That has now turned into 260 hours, along with continuing education requirements over the course of every three years. 

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"That's a tremendous time requirement," Smith said. "You know, you've got a full time job Monday through Friday and then you're doing this out of the goodness of your heart: afternoons, evenings, weekends."

Keep in mind — 70 percent of firefighters around the country are volunteers. 

"If we're having trouble attracting part-time people while we're paying them, rural areas that aren't able to do that — how are they going to manage attracting people to volunteer in the community?" Barnett said. 

All of this also means business and home owners could pay more in insurance. 

The Insurance Services Office measures every community's Fire Suppression System, giving it a grade between 1 and 10, where 1 is the best. 

West Carrollton, for example, is a 3. 

The Public Protection Classification scores are based on the fire department, water system and emergency dispatch in a community. 

The ISO said communities with low ratings pay substantially more for fire insurance. 

Public Protection Classification scores are not released publicly. Personal insurance agents or local fire department can help answer what grade communities have and whether that grade has changed over time.