National shortage of first responders impacting Columbus

National shortage of first responders impacting Columbus

COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) - Around the U.S., many police departments, fire departments, emergency medical services, and other first responders are experiencing a shortage in staff.

Fire Marshal Ricky Shores said Columbus Fire and EMS is currently about 25 people short and they only hire once a year. Shores said when Columbus Fire and EMS are at full staff, they have roughly 100 people on board.

“And it’s difficult to find someone that’s capable of running into a burning building or dealing with a car wreck, but also being able to use medications and IV fluid and being able to attend to a medical issue," Shores said.

This shortage in staff isn’t only a fire department problem. Shores said first responders across the nation are experiencing this issue.

“You know the economy is up, unemployment is down," Shores said. "So typically when that takes place, you’re going to have a tough time employing police officers, firefighters, and EMTs, because they can find better gainful employment somewhere else. So, it’s a challenge.”

Shores said he and the Columbus Fire and EMS staff have worked overtime to maintain a high level of response. He said they are dedicated to their community.

“You know it’s really a calling, it always has been.”

Columbus Fire and EMS hires one time a year. Shores said they normally have around 100 people take the fitness test at the beginning of the application process and end up hiring 10 or 15 of those people in the end, if they’re lucky.

“You know 30 years ago, firefighters mainly did fire run operations," Shores said. "But their job has changed tremendously just in the last 20 years. Our personnel have to be multi-talented. They’ve got to be able to deal with a medical issue then turn around 30 minutes later, an hour later and deal with a fire issue and those are special people.”

Not just anyone can be a member of Columbus Fire and EMS. You must be double certified as an EMT as well as a firefighter.

Chief Ricky Boren said a full Columbus Police Department has 488 police officers. Right now, he said they are 90 people short and it’s really impacting day-to-day operations.

“Our main priority and our responsibility to the citizens are 911 calls and response to those calls even though we’re a full service department," Boren said.

Boren said a short staff is causing issues within the department. He said they are about to start considering which services they can cut back on. Priority one calls already have a longer response time than others.

"The priority three calls, which are your blue lights and sirens when you see an officer going up the road, those remain kind of consistent,” said Boren.

Boren thinks the reason behind the problem has to do with the state of the economy right now.

“And they’re jobs available where an individual is fairly well guaranteed that when he leaves home every day, he’ll be coming back home in the afternoon,” Boren said.

He said although the department has a recruitment plan, it’s essential people consider what a life as a first responder could look like.

“Well, I’ve been with this department a long time, and I came in this department as a rookie, when I was 21 years old. I had just gotten out of college. "It’s been good to me, it’s been good to my family. Columbus is a great place to live, great place to raise a family,” said Boren.

Boren said the pay and benefits at the police department are very good, and he suggests anyone even remotely interested to visit protectcolumbus.com.

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