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No shortage of applicants at the Anchorage Fire Department

Published: Oct. 15, 2021 at 3:44 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - While businesses and organizations continue to struggle with nationwide staffing shortages, the Anchorage Fire Department is having no trouble finding applicants. Right now, Assistant Chief Alex Boyd said they have more applicants than there are current staff members.

There are 394 people working for the fire department right now, and 415 applied this year to be firefighters.

Having so many applicants may seem unique, but Boyd said it’s actually a pretty normal amount. He said they’ve had up to 1,000 applicants before.

Of all those hopeful first responders, Boyd said only about 20-25 will make the cut.

“The folks we hire are coming in to replace those who are retiring so that we can maintain our staffing levels throughout the city and ensure that we’ve got the service we need,” Boyd said.

That department’s standard staffing level is 108 people on a shift with 98 minimum, Boyd said.

As appealing as it may sound, becoming a firefighter is really hard.

Boyd explained it’s a five part process. A background check, a written exam, a situational interview, a physical exam, and a final interview with Chief Doug Schrage.

“From the written forward, everything we do is what we call gatekeeper, where you pass or fail,” Boyd said.

This time around, he said the first two parts of the hiring process weeded out 198 people already.

The situational interview, Boyd explained, is where an applicant is asked questions about what they would do in a given situation. How would they react to “x” and what should they do if “y” happens.

He said by then, many of the applicants are up for the physical exam, but it is still one of the hardest challenges.

The applicants go through 11 challenges. They run with hoses, climb over and under simulated structures, move heavy ladders, rescue a fake victim, run up and down stairs and a lot more.

“This is very much like the job expectations. What you do here is the first 10 minutes of a fire,” he said.

It’s certainly a good thing that the department that responds to fire and medical emergencies is fully staffed with a long list of applicants available. Still, one might wonder why so many are signing up to rush into burning buildings.

Boyd thinks that it comes with the territory of being a firefighter. He said the respect that comes with the job, and the purpose of saving lives draws in plenty of applicants every year.

However, these days, he thinks that the fact that there are always emergencies to respond to is another factor in the appeal right now.

“I believe the fire service offers stability,” he said. “We’re part of the government services that can be counted on. When you call 911 we’re here and I think there’s probably a little of that that plays into the fire service — law enforcement — these are more stable services. And that if you’re looking for stable employment it’s a good way to go,” he said.

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