Orleans Fire Chief Addresses Staffing Challenges

Courtesy of Orleans Channel 18

ORLEANS – Orleans Fire Chief Geoff Deering discussed the department’s staffing shortage at a recent meeting of the town’s select board and recommended ways to address the issue.

The chief said that most days the department doesn’t have enough personnel to have two ambulances, or an ambulance and a fire engine, out simultaneously.

Deering highlighted how often the station is not fully staffed.

“Honestly as fire chief, it keeps me up at night. Our community deserves to have someone there very quickly and we don’t have always the people there to respond quickly,” he said.

He said the station typically has four firefighters on duty. However, in an instance when a call requires medical transport to Cape Cod Hospital, three of those firefighters will be out responding for roughly two hours.

The department tries to call in two more members to help cover additional calls in that situation.

But Deering said the department’s data says that 30% of the time, the coverage requests are not filled, leaving the station with one to two firefighters, or none at all.

Deering said the department’s call volume has been steadily increasing over the years. He noted 2018 was an outlier with several winter storms.

The chief said multiple and simultaneous calls to the station have been up, while the amount of call back personnel is decreasing.

Deering presented a slide that showed workload for Orleans firefighters has been some of the highest for departments across the Cape the last few years.

He said this can lead to burnout for firefighters and effects on physical and mental health.

Deering noted there is a national shortage of EMTs, paramedics, and firefighters, “that’s magnified on Cape Cod because of our housing and other challenges that we have here.” 

The chief said firefighters in Orleans are required to live within seven miles of the station. Deering said it’s difficult to expect staff to live in that proximity given the regional housing costs.

The department is recommending that 8 full-time positions should be added, which would be effective in July 2023.

Deering said the additional personnel would allow for the department to staff two resources (ambulance, fire engine) and more easily respond to overlapping calls without waiting for mutual aid.

Deering said a federal grant program that other towns on the Cape have received to help offset staffing shortages. The grant covers costs of new staff for three years, but the town is responsible for the expenses in the fourth year.

The department is planning to apply when the next round of funding becomes available, but they are hopeful the town will address budgeting for the future staff members before they go forward with the application process.

“For the citizens who call 911, they deserve to have the fire department there as quick as possible, maybe not responding from a neighboring community on a regular basis,” Deering said.

Several towns on the Cape recently announced the graduation of fire department members from the Massachusetts Firefighting Academy.

By Brian Engles, CapeCod.com NewsCenter  

About Brian Engles

Brian Engles is a longtime local of the Cape. He studied Film & TV at Boston University and in addition to his role at Cape Cod Broadcasting Media, he also works as a music instructor and records original songs.

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