Area fire departments scramble for help

Some fire departments in Central Wisconsin are seeing historic lows in the amount of applications they’re receiving.
Published: Oct. 12, 2021 at 9:57 PM CDT
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CENTRAL WISCONSIN (WSAW) - Some fire departments in Central Wisconsin are seeing historic lows in the amount of applications they’re receiving. That’s leading to a critical staffing shortage.

Over the past five years, fire departments have been seeing a steady decline in job applications. It’s a trend especially hurting small municipalities.

“It’s been a slow trickle compared to years past,” Wausau Fire Chief Bob Barteck said. “It’s very concerning to me.”

The Wausau Fire Department is five staff members short. Barteck said the department has hit an all-time low in their number of applicants. Before applications began to plummet, Wausau would have 30 to 40 people to pick from and now it’s bare bones.

“We have more positions than we actually have people qualified people applying for those positions,” Barteck said.

Wausau Fire Department recently published a job posting. Barteck said it’s their fourth posting this year, normally they post just one or two. In a demanding job that strives for public safety, being short staffed simply is not an option.

“To have those empty spots especially going into next year we anticipate more retirements next year and it’s very concerning to me and how long this is sustainable,” Barteck said.

The Stevens Point Fire Department currently has seven open positions. Assistant Fire Chief JB Moody said lately they have been seeing between six and 12 applicants, but they normally see four to five times that amount. At Wisconsin Rapids Fire Department, it’s a similar situation.

“We used to have when I first started, back then in the 1990s 40 to 50 applicants for an opening,” Wisconsin Rapids Fire Chief Scott Young said.

That number has dwindled to between four and seven in 2021, and from those, only about three applicants meet the required qualifications. Qualifications that Young believes are too demanding.

“Our minimum qualifications are quite high I think we need to look at adjusting them, a lot of departments have waived the associates degree or 60 college credits,” Young said.

Part of the problem is smaller departments typically look for applicants that can hit the ground running, with little training required. However, getting the younger generation interested is the key.

“It’s pretty good salary, good benefits, and you know I don’t think a lot of high school students think about that,” Young said.

On Monday, Oct. 25 from 6:30-9 p.m., the Wausau Fire Department is partnering with NTC and will be holding their first ever career night at Station 2, 3017 Seymour Lane, Wausau, WI 54401. You can find more information on their Facebook page.

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