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Firefighters union president sounds the alarm over staffing shortages, but not due to COVID

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Ann Thompson
There aren't enough Cincinnati firefighters and that is making it difficult for others who have to pick up extra shifts. On Dec. 29, 2021, Cincinnati declared an emergency because of the staffing problems.

President Matt Alter says the staff shortages began years ago, before COVID was a factor.

The president of Cincinnati Firefighters Local 48 says he will tell City Council Wednesday the department needs regular recruiting classes to increase staffing from dangerously low levels.

“Firefighting, EMS, paramedic service - it’s a hands-on occupation. We have to have people,” says Matt Alter, who adds staffing needs haven’t been adjusted for nearly 16 years.

On Dec. 29, the city of Cincinnati declared an emergency, authorizing the fire chief to institute mandatory overtime if necessary.

Compounding staffing problems is the pandemic. More than two dozen firefighters had COVID last week.

“In the short period of time - just a matter of three or four days - we had over 30 firefighters come down with COVID; couple that with short staffing," Alter says. "As we sit here today (Jan. 3) we’re about 70 below our authorized strength of 841 firefighters.”

He says over the years, union presidents and fire chiefs have petitioned to have regular recruiting classes, something that hasn’t happened.

The city skipped them for the last couple of years. Alter says generally 30 firefighters retire every year and replacements are needed.

“It has been a long time coming and when I say decades in the making, I wish I could say I’m exaggerating but I’m not.”

Alter commends firefighters for stepping up to take shifts so others don’t have to work 48 hours straight with overtime.