The City of Rolla Fire and Rescue department is struggling.
“We are down four firefighters and running short on each of the three shifts. Our recruitment and retention are affected because our firefighters can make $10,000 more per year just a few miles away in other communities,” said Rolla Fire Chief Ron Smith. “Most of our firefighters have 15 or more years of experience and most of them, 90 percent, have second jobs to make ends meet. We haven’t been able to keep up with the cost of living.”
Smith explained that many communities smaller than Rolla are paying higher salaries. The families of Rolla firefighters are challenged to maintain a quality of life.
When asked why these highly trained, and fully certified fire department employees stay on with underfunded, demanding positions, Smith replied that it is because they love the Rolla community, raising their children here, and are dedicated to serve others. Each shift is 24 hours, from 8 a.m. – 8 a.m., and rest time is also being affected.
With the growth of our population and more college-age residents, more and more calls come during the night. “This affects the rest time and stamina,” Smith said. “We average several calls a night now where 20 years ago, we would be able to rest more at night.”
More calls are now coming in between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. and between 10 p.m. and 8 a.m. These calls range from responding to fire alarms or non-injury accidents which may take 20-30 minutes to incidents that take several hours such as injury accidents and structure fires, the department answered 1,400 calls last year.
“In the blink of an eye” is how Carrie Vincent described the response time of the Rolla Fire & Rescue Department. Vincent, owner of a four-plex on Fox Creek Road in Rolla, called for help when the housing unit caught on fire recently with residents inside.
“They were awesome,” she said referring to the Rolla firefighters. “We’ve never had anything like this happen before. It taught us a lot.”
Smith also pointed out that the fire department is called upon for lots of non-fire related, but serious issues. “When people don’t know who to call, they call us,” he said. “Folks get their fingers stuck in the bed of their pickup truck, dogs get their dog tags stuck in odd places, yellow jacket nests need to be destroyed after attacking folks, and we rarely say no.”
Unfortunately, the City of Rolla Fire & Rescue Department cannot offer a fair wage to its highly certified firefighters and the essential radio equipment is becoming obsolete after the first of the year. Repair parts for the radios will no longer be available as of Jan. 1.
“There are tasks that we can’t achieve,” Smith stressed. “We’re behind the curve which affects the safety of our citizens. We’re missing the strength of our team because we’re not fully staffed and we strive to be the best in the business.”
Smith said, a vote yes on Prop Public Safety for a Use Tax on the Nov. 5 ballot would help fund the Rolla Fire & Rescue and Police Departments to alleviate these struggles.