11 Call for Action: Firefighter shortage in Colorado Springs

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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KKTV) - Colorado Springs is growing, but the fire department is shrinking.
All while firefighters are getting more calls for help.

11 News reporter Kyla Galer spoke with the Colorado Springs Fire Department's chief to find out how they're keeping up in this 11 Call for Action investigation.

They're some of the men and women you might need to call at any time of the day. But over the last nine years, the number of sworn firefighter positions has dropped by 16.

"We're down in number, but in that same period of time because of the growth in the city we've also increased our resources on the street," explained Chief Ted Collas.

Now with fewer people on staff, they have more people to keep safe in the community. Each year, the call volume goes up by about 3 to 4 percent. In 2016, there were more than 67,000 calls for service. They're on track to surpass that number in 2017.

When you call 911, one of their trucks will always show up fully equipped with the right amount of people. However, that means some firefighters don't see their families for days. That's because of mandatory over time. If a firefighter doesn't have anyone to relive them after their regular 24-hour shift, they have to stay another 24 hours.

"That's really a tough phone call to have to tell an employee you're not going to go home and it's going to be three days before you get to see your family," said Chief Collas.

The department calls it a mandatory hire-back and they had to do it 200 times in 2016. To put it into perspective - they only had 15 mandatory hire-backs in 2015.

"If you're working at one of our busier fire stations for 72 hours, that's very taxing on a person," added Chief Collas.

The chief says part of the staffing problems has to do with a lack of people with specialized certifications, like paramedics.

"Not everybody is cut out to be a firefighter. Some folks want to provide the service to the community through an ambulance service," said Chief Collas.

Regardless of the staffing issues though, the chief says they're committed to getting the job done.

"We will keep up. We've got a service that - a mission to fulfill in our community that we'll always fulfill our mission."

The chief says they've asked city council for eight more firefighters and four civilian support staff. They'll find out from city council in November if it's approved.