First responder shortage impacting community safety

First responder staffing struggles
Published: May. 30, 2022 at 9:17 PM CDT
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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - Police and fire departments all across the state are struggling with staffing. A shortage of applicants for first responder jobs is impacting departments of every shape and size. We’ve heard of staffing complaints from several departments all across the region.

The Jasper Fire Department, the Birmingham Police department and several others and with the staffing situation only getting worse, the state Fraternal Order of Police president Everette Johnson fears situations and tragedies like Uvalde could only become more common.

“It does make me concerned. That situation is tragic as a whole but you know crime doesn’t happen when law enforcement is present,” said Johnson.

Johnson stresses that’s why patrols exist. To not only stop potential crime, but to deter it. Unfortunately he believes staffing challenges are already jeopardizing your safety in some communities.

“I think in some communities we are. You have to look at it not just for the lack of numbers but that shift has to be filled by somebody and now you’re looking at an office that may work an 8 or 12 hour shift and now work into overtime,” said Johnson.

That could make tired officers or fire fighters more likely to make a mistake. That’s why many in law enforcement feel the current staffing situation is compromising communities.

“While people want the bad guys behind the bars. They expect us to do it right. Follow the law. That gold standard, but right now we are about half staffed,” said Calhoun County Sheriff Matthew Wade.

Sheriff Wade admits there are several reasons for the shortage. Perhaps highest among them is better pay.

“I don’t know what the magic number is for pay but it’s not what we’re paying. We can’t fill our ranks,” said Sheriff Wade.

Now many departments are working to achieve higher pay, even adding hiring incentives or retention bonuses.

“Law enforcement agencies across the country are facing the same challenges as every job market right now, with respect to recruiting,” said Shelby County Sheriff John Samaniego.

“In Shelby County, we choose to maintain our high professional standards in spite of a tight labor market. We are working with our County Commission to focus on marketing and recruiting strategies specifically for the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. This challenge is just as important to our County Commissioners as it is to me. I am confident this challenge is temporary for our nation and we will see law enforcement agencies back to full staffing in the coming years.”

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