Roanoke Fire and EMS struggles with increase in call volume and decrease in staff
ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - In the last two years, the call volume for Roanoke Fire and EMS has seen an average decrease of 1.4% to an average increase of 4.35%.
In April and May of 2021 the call volume sky rocketed, which was a drastic change from April and May of 2020.
“We had, in some months, a reduction as much as 18 to 20 percent with government and localities closed, but as they started opening back up, our volume just started gradually climbing,” said Roanoke Fire and EMS Chief, David Hoback.
With over 30 years as a paid firefighter, Chief Hoback ranks third in seniority in the entire department. It’s a ranking he’s proud of, but he says not everyone hopes to get to that point.
“We’re seeing people who are ready to retire, that would normally stay 25 years, but say 20 years is enough, it’s time for me to go. With that leaves vacancies and holes in the department. Right now we’re down in the field just from vacancy perspective, about 17 or 18. That doesn’t include some pending retirements that we have or resignations that we know are out there.”
It also doesn’t include those who are on long term disability or the 5-7 people out at any given time due to COVID.
Those who are able to come to work feel the strain.
“We are carrying a lot of overtime, and we’re requiring a lot of our people. Now our people are stepping up and doing what needs to be done, to protect the citizens of Roanoke or to watch out for each other. But when we don’t have enough people working, it makes it dangerous for us, because there’s not enough people on incidents, and that’s unsafe,” said Duane Noell, president of Local 1132 Firefighters Association.
After filing a FOIA request with the city, WDBJ7 received a 338 page SWOT analysis done in December of 2021. It contains feedback from current firefighters and EMT personnel, all anonymous. Comments are made about the strengths and weaknesses of the department. The word “burn out” was used 45 times.
“We’ve got to be more competitive, we’ve got to start leading again, and not following, leading in pay, leading in benefits to attract people to come to work for us, or I’m afraid things won’t change if we don’t,” said Noell.
“We’re not always successful we know we’re not always successful but we want to try to do the most we can do to support our people,” said Hoback.
According to Hoback that also means getting the right people through the doors.
In September there were 21 positions that needed to be filled, but only 11 were. That led to discussions of accelerating the hiring process and adding in the lateral transfer program, which cuts back the length of the 22 week recruit school for those with enough experience.
“So we get them out, those are experienced people we get them out, and then if they are not successful in that accelerated program we can slide them out to the full recruit school. Because when they graduate recruit school they’ve got to be ready to go,” said Hoback.
When the alarm sounds, all have to be ready to go: through a pandemic, more calls, and more departures.
“And we’ve got a lot of work to do to kind of cultivate that family atmosphere again that keeps that attraction, keeps that workforce happy, and we’re gonna do everything we can to make that happen,” said Hoback.
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