POLK COUNTY, Fla. — Polk County Fire Rescue is rolling out new initiatives in hopes of solving staffing shortages.
“It's the most amount of vacancies I've ever seen,” said Lee Stringer, President of Polk County Professional Firefighters Local 3531.
There are 60 vacancies within Polk County's Fire Rescue division. The President of Polk County Professional Firefighters union Lee Stringer said firefighters and paramedics working hundreds of hours of mandatory overtime to make up for staffing shortages.
“Basically, after a 24-hour shift of running emotional calls, hard calls, stressful calls, whatever way you want to look at it. Instead of going home to your family members to comfort you or to try to get your mind off what’s going on, you’re told sorry, you have to do another 24 hours,” said Stringer.
Polk Fire Rescue is the busiest fire department in the state. Stringer said employees are tired and burned out.
“We actually lost a bunch in January, and we lost a couple more today,” said Stringer.
To fill vacancies Polk County is hiring a full-time recruiter, offering an $8,000 sign-on bonus to newly-hired paramedics and will also pay for paramedic school and give them a $2,000 monthly stipend for 11 months.
Polk County Fire Chief Robert Weech said paramedics are most needed.
“We need to go above and beyond, and we need to do things that are outside what other agencies are doing. We need to get more aggressive, and we need to take things seriously,” said Polk County Fire Chief Robert Weech.
New employees must work with the county for four years or pay the bonuses or stipends back. This plan will cost the county $1.2 million to implement.
“We’ve taken a unique, creative approach to solving the problem with identifying and recognizing that the hiring pool is not where we want it to be. So, we want to make sure that we get our share,” Weech said.
Union leaders believe these solutions are a good start.
“I’m also hoping that that through negotiations we can better our contract and create more benefits and create better pay and try to attract more people also,” Stringer said.