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Springfield Faces a Shortage of Firefighters

Due to the Fire and Police Pension crisis, Springfield firefighters are retiring early to get all the benefits they can. But with the city in a hiring freeze, no firefighters can be hired to replace the retiring ones. As KSMU’s Kristian Kriner reports, this is creating a shortage.

Springfield Fire Department officials say by the end of June, they will be short 23 firefighters, and the firefighters on staff will be working overtime.

Department officials say the number of firefighters working for 25 years -which is the maximum time they can work- has dropped almost 40 percent in the past two years.

Barry Rowell, the Springfield Fire Chief, says some firefighters are deciding to leave early to avoid losing their benefits to the pension crisis.

“The way the pension is structured they have the ability to leave at 20 years of service, 50 years of age and a maximum would be 25 years of service. So what we’re seeing is an increase in those people that are leaving before they reach that 25 years of service,” Rowell said.

Rowell says because the city of Springfield is in a hiring freeze is makes it difficult for them to be replaced.

He says the fire department has had to make several cutbacks to compensate for the shortage of firefighters.

“With the significant numbers of people that we’re short and also in order to staff all the vehicles, we’ve had to, on some days, shut units down across the city. And we’ve been doing that on a rotating basis moving from one station to another so it doesn’t just impact one part of town,” Rowell said.

Despite the hiring freeze, Rowell says the city has agreed to hire five more firefighters by July 1st to ease the strain fire stations are feeling.

He says the Police and Fire Pension Task Force is still looking for ways to get the retiring firefighters the benefits they deserve.

“It’s a pretty significant situation and it has affected the total operations of not just the police and fire but also the entire city. So we’re looking anxiously to see what the task force comes up with as a solution,” Rowell said.

Rowell says his main concerns right now are to make sure the fire department doesn’t have to shut down any more units and continue to keep Springfield as safe as possible.

For KSMU News, I’m Kristian Kriner.