Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Firefighter shortage prompts recruiting


By STEVE BENSON
Express Staff Writer

With local firefighter numbers generally decreasing, all five fire departments in Blaine County have joined forces to hold a recruitment drive the last week of July to attract part-time, paid employees.

This is the first time a firefighter recruitment drive has been held in Blaine County.

With the county's housing prices rising significantly and wages remaining steady over the past several years, community leaders have been warning that the pool of emergency responders would decrease.

"Our numbers are all down, all across the board, in all departments in the valley," said Captain Kjell Elisson, of Wood River Fire and Rescue. "Numbers aren't significantly down, but there's potential (they will keep dropping)."

Hailey Fire Chief Mike Chapman said his department has been able to maintain firefighter numbers lately, gaining and losing about four firefighters a year. He added, however, that the future is always uncertain.

"They are needed desperately," Chapman said.

He said the challenge of providing affordable housing has been on his mind for "decades," and that the situation is worse in the upper Wood River Valley.

"Sun Valley is experiencing difficulty finding people living up there to work for them, same with Ketchum," Champman said. "Most live in the south county. It seems like everyone lives a city or two below where they work—firefighters, police, everyone.

"We're doing reasonably well holding our own."

Chief Jeff Carnes of the Sun Valley Fire Department said numbers fluctuate, and he's currently experiencing an unexplained surplus.

"A couple years ago I could have used another five or six people. Now I have a waiting list," Carnes said. "Don't ask me why. I know other departments can't get enough—they're facing a challenging situation with housing costs."

Carnes said the recent addition of a couple affordable housing units has helped, but more units will be needed in the future.

"We're better off than we were before, when guys had to win the lottery to live here," he said. "I've been here 32 years, and in the next 32 years (affordable housing) will be the biggest challenge we all face here.

"Full-time firefighters are very expensive, and we pride ourselves on being a community fire department staffed with people who live in the community."

Mike Elle, Ketchum's acting fire chief, could not be reached for comment.

Carnes encouraged anyone interested in becoming a firefighter to attend the open houses. No experience is necessary, and there's no obligation.

"We want people to meet everybody and see what it entails because it is a pretty big commitment," Carnes said. "It's also a pretty good time to bring the kids by and let them look at the fire engines."

Open Houses

Bellevue Fire Department

213 S. Main Street

Tuesday, July 25, 6 p.m.

Sun Valley Fire Department

100 Arrowleaf, Elkhorn Station

Tuesday, July 25, 6 p.m.

Hailey Fire Department

617 3rd Avenue South

Wednesday, July 26, 6 p.m.

Wood River Fire Department

117 E. Walnut, Hailey

Thursday, July 27, 6 p.m.

Ketchum Fire Department

480 E. Ave North

Friday, July 28, noon




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