Firefighter shortages lead to overtime and frustration in GA County

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larry hobbs

Brunswick News, Ga.

(TCM)

Aug. 2 – Any firefighter who complains to outgoing Glynn County Fire Chief RK Jordan about mandatory overtime preaches to the proverbial choir.

“Start asking about mandatory firefighter overtime,” read an anonymous email received by The News over the weekend.

So we did. Jordan’s last day is Wednesday, ending six years as county fire chief here and 47 years total in a career that included supervisory stints in Fort Myers, Florida, and Fort Myers Beach, Florida. Fa.

Jordan said a shortage of county firefighters and paramedics prompted department heads to impose mandatory double shifts several times this year.

“It was terrible,” Jordan said.

When the job description includes saving lives and protecting the health and well-being of people and their property, there is no skimp on the bottom line, he said. As of Monday, the department was short of six first responders out of the minimum 37 firefighters, EMS workers and paramedics needed to staff a 24-hour shift at the county’s eight fire stations.

“A minimum of 37 people are needed per shift. We have to have that,” Jordan said. “With 31 people per shift right now, that’s six extra shifts per day that need to be filled. Most are filled voluntarily. But we also “forced” people every day.

Firefighters work 24 hours straight at a fire station and then have 48 hours off. For a number of reasons, some volunteered to work 48 hours straight or were ordered to do so as stated in the job description, Jordan said.

“Firefighters are exhausted from working so much overtime,” the anonymous writer told The News. “Firefighters work mandatory 48-hour shifts every few days in addition to regular shift work.”

Jordan does not blame the firefighters for their frustration.

“We’ve been shorthanded for the last year, and that’s absolutely been a big deal,” he said.

The department needs 122 first responders to be complete. With four people injured and two more military reservists called up for duty, the department is down to just under 100 first responders, he said.

On a positive note, three firefighters fresh out of training started on Monday, he said.

The inevitable unplanned absences due to illness also strained the staff, Jordan said. Sickness absences plagued the department in 2021 during a spike in COVID-19 cases within the department. But the virus hasn’t played a big role in absences this year, Jordan said.

“But that’s where we really have problems, when someone calls in sick,” he said. “There’s really no notice, so we have to delay them (from a regular shift to a double shift). We call this mandatory overtime.

A new firefighter/paramedic to the service was ordered to work a 48 hour shift twice last week. Jordan understands the frustration.

“He didn’t do it on purpose,” Jordan said. “He commented that if this doesn’t end, he’s going to find something else. Nobody said forced overtime was a reason to leave, but we know they’ve had enough.

Deputy Fire Chief Vinnie DiCristofalo will take over as acting fire chief when Jordan steps down this week.

The department is already making recruitment a priority. He placed a billboard around the county calling for new hires. County fire recruiters also visited area military bases, looking for prospects among outgoing service members.

It’s not a local problem, Jordan said. Finding and maintaining a healthy fire and rescue force is a struggle all over the place.

“We’re working on it,” Jordan said. “But I have to tell you it’s hard. And that’s nationwide. I’ve spoken with chefs across the country at seminars and elsewhere. It’s the same everywhere. »

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