Firefighters Battling Manpower Shortage

Reported By: Lee Peck

Answering another call for help, Lake Charles firefighters are out the door. But they too need help in filling two dozen positions.

"We started not only putting in the 'help wanted ads,' but we are putting it all over the newspapers as ads. We put up fliers in restaurants, we have never done that before. And we are still at this time 24 firefighters short," said Chief Training Officer Keith Murray says filling the positions has been tough since 2002 and even tougher after Hurricane Rita.

With more than a dozen runs per day, the challenge for the Lake Charles Fire Department is providing manpower for the 8 stations around the city. So how do they do it? Some firefighters spend up to a week working 24 hours a day.

"Each slot is 24 hour slot... When you got 20 to 25 positions open, that is a lot of overtime that is how many people are stepping up daily to make sure that things are done properly," said Murray. "They are still doing it every day. We are never short, somehow they always meet the quota of making sure that every truck has the right amount of manpower at their own personal expense."

"It is a double-edged sword. One side you get overtime, which is good but then again you are also missing out on a lot of family time, missing time away from your wife and watching your kids grow up," said Captain Jeremy LeBlanc, L.C.F.D. Information Officer.

One of the most dangerous jobs, it requires more than 16 weeks of intense training but only pays a little above 8 dollars an hour. While the state legislature recently approved 125 dollar monthly supplement for firefighters with one year experience -- without the overtime, it's still a hard way to make a living.

"Would higher pay do some -- yeah, it would help. Would it solve the problem? I cannot say... I really do not know," said Murray.

What these firefighters do know is why they do the job. "Most people do this job because it is something inside of them. People chose this job because it is noble and honest," said LeBlanc.

If a career as a full time firefighter interests you, call the Lake Charles Fire Department at 491-1360, 491-1361. You can also call the Lake Charles Fire Department Training Center at 491-1279.