Fire Ops 101 shows Grand Island community challenges firefighters face
They put their lives on the line every day, now Grand Island firefighters say it's time to beef up their ranks, as they give community members a first-hand view of the need.
State Senator Dan Quick found himself on the front lines during “Fire Ops 101”. He suited up in full bunker gear, while smoke clouded his vision, and alarms sounded in his ears, as he faced a thousand-degree inferno.
“I found out how far out of shape I was,” Quick said with a laugh, after a hard day in the life of a firefighter.
But fires are rare, and some wonder how firefighters spend their time.
“Do you guys play cards all day?,” is a question Chief Cory Schmidt hears.
The reality, Schmidt said, is staying sharp on life or death skills.
“There's a lot of different things that our people have to know, so our day is really about training to make sure we're ready for a call,” he said.
Fully staffed, the Grand Island Fire Department has 21 on duty each day. They are spread over three shifts, for a total of 63 at full staff.
But most days, Schmidt said the numbers show they have 17.5 on duty, which is just above their minimum staffing level of 17 needed to man the trucks.
“It's very challenging with 17 people to keep up with our workload,” the chief said.
The fire union has been making the case for additional manpower, even with the city's financial challenges.
“The council knows that. They we need to get more firefighters to deal with the growing population,” said union president Phil Thomas.
Specifically, firefighters would like to add six more people. That's two people on each of the three shifts they run.
“Did I ask this year? Of course we asked, but realistically speaking not going to happen for at least a year or two at the earliest,” Schmidt said.
It's much more than fighting fires; Medical calls make up 75 percent of what they do, plus hazmat and rescue calls, for a total of more than 5,000 calls a year.
Schmidt said, “It's getting harder and harder to maintain the current level of service we have with the current staffing we have. At some point, Grand Island's going to have to consider investment in more people.”
As Senator Quick learned, these are people who put their bodies on the line to serve others.
“It's a great experience. I wish more citizens could participate in something like this. See what firefighters do on their day to day jobs,” he said.
Quick was one of about ten who took part in Fire Ops 101, organized by off duty firefighters on behalf of the union.