Understaffed and overworked: Kirkland firefighters say the department is in crisis

KIRKLAND, Wash. — An outraged group of firefighters told Kirkland City Council members the department is in the midst of a severe staffing crisis. They say some of their colleagues are working 20 days in a row.

Capt. Justin Becker says the last two weeks he’s worked 260 hours straight. Typically, in that same time, he’d have logged only 80.

“I feel like we’re in a staffing crisis of the likes I’ve never seen in my almost 20 years here at the fire department,” said Becker. “When we firefighters ... are that sleep-deprived, there’s a tremendous risk to this city of having someone ... drive a 60-pound apparatus down the street.”

Kirkland Fire Chief Joe Sanford agrees that’s too many hours to work, but he disagrees as to the severity of the problem.

“I wouldn’t call what we have a staffing crisis,” said Sanford.

Response times are another point of disagreement between Sanford and Kirkland Firefighters Local 2545. The vice president of the union, Evan Hurley, says the shortage means it could take longer for help to get to you. Sanford pushed back, saying that there’s been no documented impact to response times.

“Morale is at an all-time low,” said Hurley. “We’ve had some lows before, but this is as bad as it’s ever been.”

According to Local 2545, on the Fourth of July — perhaps the busiest day of the year for firefighters — 40% of staff were working overtime.

“We were unable to fill a fourth engine and extra staffing for the Fourth of July, which is the first time in my entire career I’ve heard them not even try,” said Hurley.

Pushing back, the chief says the reduction in staff was due to downtown Kirkland not having a firework show this past holiday.

The firefighter’s union wants the chief and members of Kirkland City Council to reconsider their vaccine mandate, which resulted in 12 terminations and retirements.

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