LANSING, Mich. (WLNS) – The state’s top fire official is trying to dump water on a hot-button issue facing the state right now: a staffing shortage.
The problem is not limited to Michigan, but fire officials are hopeful they can grow their crews as new firefighters graduate from Lansing Community College’s Fire Academy.
Public service jobs from police to fire have been struggling to bring in fresh recruits. It’s a trend that’s happening both locally and nationally.
The state’s Fire Marshal said while the situation looks a bit different from larger cities to smaller communities, there are thousands of open spots.
At a Lansing area job fair, Assistant Fire Chief Kenneth Lay was one of more than a dozen employers shaking hands and meeting possible future employees.
Lay said smaller rosters of personnel means longer hours for his crews.
“Our people are in the station for 24 hours and you know you working 80 some hours a week. And if you don’t have people to relieve you that means people are working twice as hard and twice as long,” said Lay.
But he said that doesn’t keep them from answering the call to help. Around Michigan, fire crews are making do with less.
Michigan Fire Marshall Kevin Sehlmeyer said departments have room for 25,000 full-time and volunteer firefighters. But the reality is around 1,500 to 2,000 positions are left open. He said it’s a recruiting and retention issue that sometimes fluctuates county by county, shift by shift.
“What we are seeing in a lot of our fire departments across our state is there is a vacancy rate higher than the normal vacancy rate for our paid-on-call, our volunteers and even our career fire departments.”
Sehlmeyer said many departments are getting around the issue by sponsoring students who want to become firefighters.
At LCC’s west campus, 18 fire academy students practiced their walk down the aisle. With openings around the state, they’re eager to begin their next chapter.
“This takes a calling to do this job and we’ve grown together in this academy class. We’ve learned from a great cadre and we are ready to elevate that stress on the program, on the city,” said graduate Julian Horn.
In previous discussions, Lansing Fire Chief Brian Studivant said one way he hopes to bring in new employees is through upgrading the city’s firehouses and purchasing state-of-the-art life-saving equipment.