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Fire Department Staff Sleepless in Seattle 

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Fire Department Staff Sleepless in Seattle 

As other professions are experiencing shortages, so are firefighters. The Seattle Fire Department is experiencing a staff shortage related to the pandemic. Overtime hours have run in to the millions. A positive area is that the greater workload does not seem to have contributed to slower response times or a higher rate of injury. According to department data, SFD paid out $37.7 million in overtime last year. SFD responded to more calls last year with fewer staff than in 2019. 

SFD requires roughly between 216 and 220 uniformed personnel to be on duty. This is the minimum staffing requirements. The department says it needs 1,083 personnel to meet full staffing. Citywide, ranked by the number of hours they were paid to work, the top 30 city employees were all firefighters.

The pandemic was primarily caused by COVID. Our first responders we’re important to the entire process. Now, much of the increased overtime has been driven by COVID-19. SFD staffers provided more than 230,000 vaccines last year, at sites from pop-up clinics to Mariners and Sounders games, and administered more than 250,000 tests. 

Not all fire fighters were happy about having to take the vaccine. To this day, that has made the department have to plug in  gaps resulting from the dozens of firefighters who left the department. Some took leave in the fourth quarter of 2021 because they did not comply with the city’s vaccine requirement. According to SFD, 44 firefighters retired, 10 resigned and 21 were fired from the department in the nine months following the announcement of the vaccine requirement. 

It is ongoing. As of May, another 19 were on extended leave from the department, seeking exemptions from the policy. The department’s uniformed staff went to 965 in June — the lowest level since 2001. 

Still there is good news. As of this month, SFD said it had 1,026 uniformed staff, or 57 positions shy of full staffing. The department said they’ve met minimum staffing requirements just 32% of the time since the beginning of the year. On days when SFD is understaffed, anywhere from one to “a few” of the department’s 69 apparatuses can be out of service, according to a spokesperson.

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