Beginning Jan. 1, Gig Harbor Fire & Medic One began beefing up its responses to fires and medical emergencies.
Staffing at each of its five manned stations was bumped from 19 to 22 firefighters on duty per shift. The increase allows all five staffed fire engines to respond with three people instead of two, said Ryan Shervanick, spokesperson for the Gig Harbor Professional Firefighters, IAFF Local 3390. The union represents the 110 firefighter/EMTs and firefighter/paramedics who work for the Gig Harbor department.
“The faster we get firefighters and equipment on scene, the faster we can complete our fireground tasks, provide a safer environment for ourselves and the community we’re sworn to protect,” Shervanick said in a press release.
Union members staff five stations 24 hours a day from which they operate five fire engines, three medic units, a battalion chief and a medical service officer (MSO) who responds to critical fire and medical incidents. The department answers more than 6,000 emergency calls per year.
Gig Harbor Fire & Medic One raised its staffing level by 15 new firefighters the past few years while also replacing three to five who retire each year. Seven arrived in just the past couple days. Five of them are entry-level firefighters who must attend fire academy, EMT school and post-academy training, taking 1 1/2 to 2 years before they can begin running calls. Two lateral firefighter/paramedics from other departments must only be trained in their new employer’s procedures.
“It takes quite a while to train an emergency responder so you know we couldn’t do it in one fell swoop,” said department spokesman Eric Waters. “As our revenue would allow and property taxes go up, we used some of those increases to bring on additional staff and begin the training cycle.” A federal grant also provided some funding, but it will expire soon.
The decision to increase staffing on the fire trucks was the result of a study conducted by the board of commissioners a couple years ago to improve safety for firefighters and the public.
“They identified appropriate response times and what a response looks like for EMS and fire calls,” Waters said. “As part of that they identified it is more efficient and safer to have three people responding on fire apparatus than two. There’s national response and safety data to support this.”
Chief Dennis Doan last month recommended that one fire station be torn down and replaced and two others renovated as part of a major capital facilities upgrade because they’re 35 to 40 years old and don’t meet ADA or seismic standards. Some don’t provide sufficient living quarters to house adequate staff, including facilities to accommodate a growing number of women.
Waters said it’ll be tight with three more firefighters added, “but our current facilities will allow us to put these people to work every day and do it in a safe way. It’s not ideal and we’re trying to improve on that. We’re trying to provide service to our community so that’s why we’re pushing forward at the same time we’re pushing forward to improve our facilities.”
Four of the department’s nine stations are not staffed on a full-time basis, but the deployment model directs staffing to the five stations in areas with the highest demands and work to bring on one or two of the other stations full time in the future, Waters said.
“Local 3390 Gig Harbor Professional Firefighters has obviously advocated heavily for this increase in staffing as it provides a safer work environment for our firefighters, and more importantly an improved service for the citizens,” said union spokesman Shervanick. “Our administration (chiefs and fire commissioners) have worked hand in hand with the union in making this happen and leading the charge.”
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