SFD to add 2 full-time firefighters

stillwaterThe Stillwater Fire Department will get two new full-time members after the Stillwater City Council approved Fire Chief Stu Glaser’s request for the additional staff Tuesday.

The council’s decision came after Glaser outlined staffing issues facing his department. The two full-time firefighters are being hired due to decreased staffing with paid on-call firefighters.

Although the on-call firefighters will remain part of the department, Glaser cited the combination of decreased staffing and increasing development in the area as reasons to add the two new full-time employees.

The department currently has 24 paid on-call staffers, eight short of normal levels, according to Glaser. The chief added that the pending retirement of a firefighter will increase the manpower shortage.

Glaser noted that SFD staffing shortages have been an issue for years, with the department losing more people than it gains. Glaser said he studied numerous options to address the staffing shortage and adding two full-time firefighters was the most cost-effective option. He said Stillwater’s situation is not very different from surrounding metro fire departments dealing with the same issue.

“We’re hoping to get this up and running as soon as possible because it does make me very concerned. Out of 33 paid on-call firefighters, 14 of those have five years or more (experience), five of those are eligible to retire because they’re going on 20 years of service. About 72 percent of our department has five years or less of experience, which makes for a very young department and we’re pretty much in a constant hiring process because a lot of them have left already. Average turnaround for the department is 2.5 years, which messes up our succession planning,” Glaser said.

Glaser said the addition of the new bike trail and a likely increase in senior housing development means the SFD needs more personnel. He added that funds for the two new positions are available from existing vacancies in the on-call staff.

Councilman Doug Menikheim said he was extremely concerned with the SFD manpower shortage, adding that now was the time to act and provide the department with additional staff.

Councilman Tom Weidner said he wondered if hiring two new full-time firefighters was the way to go and asked City Administrator Larry Hansen his thoughts on the request.

“In the 30 years I’ve served here, I’ve been against full-time fire departments,” Hansen said. “But after meeting with Stu, I admit that our current model is broken and it’s been losing it’s way. So I do somewhat reluctantly support his request because truly, I don’t know what else to do. Could things change in five years with a new model that works? Yes, some of it does go with that, but we have a problem right now and it’s the least expensive way to correct it.”

Contact Avery Cropp at [email protected]