Due To An Acute Shortage Of First Responders, Oregon’s Small Fire District Doubled Its Staff

First responders are in severe need in Oregon, and officials predict that soon the lack of employees will slow down response times.

During a recent legislative committee hearing, Mercy Flights CEO Sheila Clough stated, “We are burning out our personnel by continuing to urge them to continue working the vast amount of hours.”

According to the findings of a survey performed by the Oregon Fire Chiefs Association, just around 25% of applicants are now submitting applications to fire departments across the state.

One small fire department in southern Oregon is succeeding despite the obstacles.

The number of firemen in Jackson County Fire District 5 has increased by 21, according to Charlie Hanley, chief. “We only had two firefighters on our units; we couldn’t even meet minimal manning; today we have three to four firefighters on our units every day.”

How one small fire district increased employees in response to a dire need for first responders.

He claimed that a new paid apprentice programme the organisation started in February was responsible for the agency’s successful recruitment.

Oregon's Small Fire District Doubled Its Staff
Oregon’s Small Fire District Doubled Its Staff

“Since being a firefighter is so expensive, it’s no longer an attractive job, which is why people aren’t applying for firefighter positions right now. Other positions offer more income and more stability, he claimed. We are running an apprenticeship programme to pay folks a living wage while they are learning because of this.

The cost of Fire Science programmes in Oregon ranges from more than $3,000 to $11,000, according to Fire Science, a fact-finding resource for the industry. Most departments demand an EMT licence as a condition of admission to the academy, and it costs roughly $1,000 to earn one.

Hanley notes that while some departments offer tuition reimbursement, it is often not feasible for many people to work a full-time job to cover their living expenses while enrolled in a demanding full-time programme.

He said that the organisation expanded its employee size and increased diversity by “putting remuneration first.” For instance, he added, “We hired members of the Latinx community, female firemen, and qualified disabled veterans.”

Lauren Fillipow, one of the district’s 21 new apprentices, had been considering switching from a profession in law enforcement to a career in first aid when she learned about the programme.

“To advance my education, I enrolled in an EMT course. I truly fell in love with the medical side of things and thought it would help me one day become a better cop,” she said. “At that point, I had a mortgage, and a full-time job, and I really wanted to switch over to the fire side of things, but the thought of having to maintain my family, pay my mortgage, and go to full-time school for two years was fairly frightening.”

The apprentice programme, she claimed, gave her the push she required because it paid her, gave her on-the-job training, and allotted time for her to attend community college Fire, Science classes. According to Fillipow, the work is both demanding and gratifying.

One of the things that motivate me to perform this job, she said, is seeing the expressions on people’s faces when you are able to assist them in some of their darkest moments.

One of the two more organisations to receive funds through SB 762 in 2021 for the programme run by the Oregon Bureau of Labor & Industries and the Oregon State Fire Fighters Council is the Jackson County Fire District 5.

Both the Eugene/Springfield Fire District and the Clackamas Fire District anticipate launching their apprentice programmes at the beginning of 2023, according to council president Karl Koenig. He pointed out that because the start date corresponded with the beginning of their academy programme, Jackson County was able to get its programme up and running sooner.

He mentioned that the council will petition the Legislature to establish an ongoing source of funding for state-wide apprentice programmes like this during the upcoming legislative session.

Hanley stated that the district will attempt to place apprentices in the programme, or they can be recruited by the department.

Only fire agencies are eligible for the programme. Compared to most fire districts, which can typically afford to pay a higher wage since they are backed by tax districts, private ambulance companies have remarked that they are experiencing even more severe shortages.

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