Staffing, volunteer shortages plague many Mid-Michigan fire crews

Updated: May. 12, 2021 at 10:10 PM EDT
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CHESANING, Mich. (WJRT) (5/12/2021)--Fire crews responding to a fully-engulfed house in Chesaning Wednesday ran into a familiar problem: Too few firefighters to go around.

The shortage of volunteers isn’t new, but it is leading to snowballing problems.

This home on the outskirts of Chesaning at Sharon and Baldwin is a charred shell of its former self in the aftermath of a Wednesday house fire that had crews from across the county racing to the scene near its southern border.

“We had to call in mutual aid,” Chesaning’s fire chief related in a Wednesday phone call with ABC12. “Probably at least two thirds of Saginaw County was activated.”

And that’s a problem when those departments then have to call in others to cover their own communities, leaving crews spread thin and less able to respond. The whole county, Chief Scott Fall said, has too few firefighters to send on these calls.

“It seems like every department now, we’re all shorthanded,” he explained.

The labor shortage isn’t limited to Saginaw County – or even Michigan – nor is it new. In 2019, the National Volunteer Fire Council addressed the writing on the wall – warning numbers were “the lowest recorded levels since the National Fire Protection Association began collecting data” in the 1980s.

On Chesaning’s day shift in particular, Fall told ABC12 competing work schedules meant there were only four volunteers he could call in to respond, fewer than half the number he’d like to have on hand.

“It’s been that way for the last couple of years,” Fall said. “Even as we’re getting new people on the department, their time constraints—there’s only a certain small window of opportunity.”

Fall encouraged anyone who thinks they might have what it takes to reach out to their local fire hall. After all, the folks they may be protecting could one day include their own friends and neighbors.

“Give them a call, tell them you’re interested,” he said. “I’m sure they’d welcome you with open arms.”

Better staffed departments mean dramatically improved response times with the potential to save lives.

In this case, no one was inside at the time, according to first responders and there were no other injuries.

The home itself was considered a total loss.

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