Metro fire department says staffing shortage is putting public in danger

A staffing crisis at a metro Atlanta fire department has some worried that the lack of first responders could put people in danger.

Firefighter Jim Cadenhead with Coweta County Fire and Rescue told Channel 2′s Justin Wilfon that there could be a simple solution.

He says better pay and better benefits are what’s needed to hire and keep more firefighters and paramedics. Until that happens, he said they remain in a crisis.

“People are now getting burned out,” Cadenhead said.

Channel 2 Action News first reported on the staffing crisis at Coweta County Fire and Rescue 5 months ago. Cadenhead said it’s only getting worse.

TRENDING STORIES:

“It’s just a ticking time bomb and this has been building up for years,” said Cadenhead, who is also the president of the firefighters’ union.

Last summer he told Wilfon the department had 20 open frontline positions. Now, he said they have 30 vacancies for firefighters, paramedics and EMTs.

“With people getting burned out, starting to have marital problems, missing stuff at home, people are deciding to get out of this or move to another department,” Cadenhead said.

He said firefighters often work 72 hours of mandatory overtime each month to make up for the staffing shortage. It’s something Cadenhead said could jeopardize the safety of the public and of the tired firefighters.

Wilfon contacted the fire chief. He said the county is making progress on the staffing issue with a new class of recruits, by cross-training other staff to work as firefighters and by raising firefighters’ pay.

He also said, “we made recent adjustments to how we schedule mandatory overtime by allowing members to choose their days to work” and said, “Coweta County Fire Rescue remains committed to always keeping our community safe.”

But Cadenhead said it’s still not enough. He said the county needs to offer better pay and benefits to bring the crisis to an end.

“We’re still in that crisis mode,” Cadenhead said.

Right now, the county has about 29 recruits in their training course, but they won’t be eligible to join the department until October.

IN OTHER NEWS: