Firefighters in Lake County are continuing to sound the alarm over staffing issues. There are currently dozens of open positions, leaving the current staff working even longer hours.
“It’s not safe for the citizens, it’s not safe for the firefighters,” said Local 3990 Firefighter Union President Jason Graham.
Graham said for the nearly twenty years since he started there, there have mostly only ever been two firefighters to a firetruck, which is half the amount the National Fire Protection Association recommends.
“It’s been an issue that has never been addressed,” said Graham.
The county said, while it’s true most crews are two firefighters to a firetruck, select engines do have three. The county said it’s doing it’s best to bring the number up to three firefighters.
It budgeted 427 fire rescue positions and currently has 18 dual-certified positions (combination of both firefighter and paramedic) open along with 24 single-certified positions open.
“If they show up, and there is confirmed that there was somebody inside that structure, we’re not even really allowed to go inside that structure with just two firefighters,” said Graham. “So, it’s a major safety issue for us safety issue for the citizens also, because we’re not able to go and help.”
But the county disagrees with the concerns.
It told Channel 9 in a statement:
“We do not believe it imposes any additional risk. Until three staff members are allocated, Lake County utilizes a county-wide first-available response model that allows us to place crew members on scene in a minimum amount of time with additional support arriving as needed. Scenes are continually assessed the scene to determine what additional support is needed if any.”
Last weekend, the county sent out a letter, asking for volunteers to work up to 60 hours straight instead of the former cap of 48. Issues Graham anticipates will only worsen with the holidays right around the corner.
“A lot of our guys stepped up; they did what was right for the citizens,” said Graham. “They went out, and they worked 60 hours, and we helped the county out that way. And we help the citizens out that way. But it is definitely not sustainable.”
The county said it is actively hiring to fill open positions.
“We want our community to be assured that safety services are not at threat of suspension,” said Lake County Government Public Information Officer Sarah Lux. “Fire Rescue is actively recruiting and works with local schools to recruit qualified individuals. LCFR is continuously planning for the worst-case scenario as part of our responsibility to provide services to residents no matter the circumstances. Our teams run drills, train, and plan to ensure services remain at an adequate level regardless of how improbable the situation is.”