By Associated Press - Monday, February 15, 2016

BETHEL, Alaska (AP) - The Bethel Fire Department is asking the city to fund two extra positions in response to a surge in alcohol-related calls.

Fire Chief Bill Howell said the department is “working with the absolute minimum” and needs the extra positions to prevent employees from getting burnt out, KYUK-FM reported (https://bit.ly/1R3Vtq2). He also said a staff increase will be necessary with legal alcohol sales coming to Bethel for the first time in 40 years.

“We feel there’s a strong possibility that a package store in Bethel could increase our call volume,” Howell said, “and we’d like to up-staff in anticipation of that.”

Firefighters responded to 603 alcohol-related calls last year, an increase from 283 in 2006. Overall call volume has also grown, with more than half the department’s calls related to alcohol since 2014.

Despite the increase, staffing levels remain where there were more than 20 years ago at six firefighters. The department has more than 30 volunteers.



The National Fire Protection Association requires there to be at least three firefighters per engine responding to a fire. Howell said it is a challenge for the department to have two staff and one volunteer per truck. Usually one firefighter is on duty at a time, and the second firefighter and volunteer meet the truck at the scene.

The crew also regularly assists the short-staffed police department and goes without janitorial or administrative help.

“When fire fighters have to work 48 and 72 hours in a row for people taking vacations and having to constantly go on call on their days off to help cover staffing needs, I think it’s a pretty safe assessment that they’re being taxed further than what they should,” Howell said.

The department’s request is supported by the Public Safety and Transportation Commission, which recommended the City Council fund the positions.

The council is expected to address the issue at a later date.

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Information from: KYUK-AM, https://www.kyuk.org

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