Firefighters Across Nation Experience Shortage in Staffing - ABC FOX MONTANA NEWS, WEATHER, SPORTS - KTMF/KWYB

Firefighters Across Nation Experience Shortage in Staffing

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MISSOULA -

We continue our exclusive coverage of an event that puts journalists and decision makers in the shoes of firefighters for one day. ABC FOX Montana's Ashley Sanchez joined Missoula Rural Firefighters on a trip to Richland, Washington for the Fire OPS 101 event. During her time in Washington, she found out firefighters nationwide are dealing with a shortage in staffing.

Whether it's putting out a fire spreading through a building, or working as a paramedic to save a life, firefighters are expected to be ready for any 911 call that comes their way.

"People will call 911 when they need assistance, and we take that very seriously no matter the magnitude of the situation," said Ricky Walsh, the Vice President of the Seventh District of the International Association of Firefighters.

Walsh, a retired firefighter of 30 years, said it's getting harder for firefighters across the nation to respond quickly and efficiently to 911 calls.

"We're getting to a place where 911 calls will be delayed in all of our communities. It's a product of economy and we're in trouble," Walsh said.

Walsh advocates for firefighters in Alaska, Idaho, Montana and Washington.

"We are at a critical mass in the fire service industry right now. Most communities, if not all them, are running short staffed right now," Walsh said.

The IAFF 7th District has been holding the Fire OPS 101 event in Washington for the last 10 years. It gives local decision makers, and those who influence decisions a look at the hardships, like staffing, firefighters face on a daily basis.

"It helps us when they have an understanding, when we ask for things, when we're saying we need a piece of equipment for things, they realize, there is a need, there and is an advantage to having it," said Theresa Purtell, a Seattle firefighter.

Purtell has been volunteering at the event for the last 10 years.

"It's a great experience for folks to experience a day in the life of a firefighter. For some folks it challenges them," Purtell said.

The training took place last Friday, where dozens of participants including myself took on six different obstacles.

"It's exhausting. It definitely gives you a good sense of how hard it is to be a firefighter," said Stephanie Bowman, a Port of Seattle Commissioner and participant in the event.

The event will continue to be held in years to come in the hopes it gives the public, a look, even if just a glimpse, of the challenges firefighters are facing.

The IAFF is the primary advocate for providing fire fighters and paramedics with the tools they need to perform their jobs. The group, made up of firefighters, works to ensure the proper staffing of fire and ems departments.

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