Unfavorable math: Colorado Springs getting bigger -- city fire department getting smaller

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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KKTV) - Colorado Springs keeps getting bigger. But the city fire department is getting smaller.

The department is finding ways to make the math work, but to the detriment of firefighters.

"Even though they worked a 24-hour shift, if we don't have anyone to relieve them, we tell them they can't go home and they have to stay another 24-hour shift," said fire Chief Ted Collas.

That's because when you call 911, you'll never see a fire truck show up without the right amount of firefighters.

"It's imperative that we keep the right number of people staffing our vehicles to keep our citizens safe. So we do that every day, but sometimes that runs into what we call mandatory overtime," Collas said.

Last year, CSFD had to do that 200 times, up from just 15 in 2015.

"If you're working at one of our busier fire stations for 72 hours, it's very taxing on a person," Collas told 11 News. " ... That's not good for our personnel to look somebody in the face or to call them on the phone and say to them, 'You've worked a 24-hour shift, but you can't go home. You have to work another 24-hour shift.'"

In 2008, there were 452 sworn firefighters in Colorado Springs. Now, there's 436. While that doesn't sound like a huge drop, it's far more sobering when you realize in that same time span the city population went from 397,317 to more than 465,000. Additionally, each year the call volume goes up about 4 percent. Last year, city firefighters responded to more than 67,000 calls, and with more than three months left in 2017 are on track to surpass that number.

Reasons for lack of retention include some deciding they're not cut out for firefighting -- "Some folks want to provide the service to the community through an ambulance service," Collas said -- others retiring, and some leaving for new career opportunities.

CSFD is now asking city council for funding for eight more firefighters, which still won't bring them up to the staffing level nine years ago, but could still make a huge difference. City council will decide in November in the 2018 budget will include funding for those new positions.