Eight new recruits join Girdwood Fire Department following staffing shortage

Published: Oct. 30, 2019 at 5:29 PM AKDT
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They battle blazes, respond to car crashes, and rescue people stuck on the mudflats, but the Girdwood Fire Department has been facing a personnel shortage for quite some time.

Now, more volunteers are stepping up to answer the call, and the fire chief says the response has been overwhelming. Since February, the department has had two successful academies of eight recruits each.

The Girdwood Fire Department responds to a little bit of everything, so you have to be ready to take on anything to get the job done.

"We do backcountry rescues, frontcountry rescues, like I said, medical calls, fire calls, vehicle accidents, pretty much anything that somebody needs help with, we're doing what we can to help them," said Capt. Chris Carson.

Now, eight new recruits are on board ready to take on the challenge. That's more people ready to respond to calls along the Turnagain Arm.

"There's nowhere else you can drive a fire truck then jump on a snow machine to go rescue somebody out of a crevasse in a glacier," said Lt. Connor Gamache.

However, as these firefighters put their various skills to work, they become more marketable and experienced to join larger departments, which is bittersweet for Girdwood Fire and Rescue, as the department still faces recruiting challenges.

"We have twelve people testing for Anchorage Fire Department this week which is fabulous. It means that their experience here has been super positive and we've trained them well that they now want to have a career with Anchorage Fire Department, however, what it means is if AFD takes all 12, we have twelve more spaces that we need to train up again," said Fire Chief Michelle Weston.

So even though there's been an overwhelming response, there's always a need for volunteers. One of the main challenges this department faces is recruiting Girdwood residents to join the ranks. You don't even need much experience to join the team. The department says all it takes is a self motivated, team player ready to take on the challenge.

"Really, all it takes to be successful here is to have a willingness to learn and be part of the team. As long as you've got that walking in the door, I can teach you everything else you need to know," said Gamache. "The skills that we have are all skills we breed in house. The tools that we have are tools that we practice with daily, so everything you see out on the highway, out on a call, that's stuff that we really foster here."

The Girdwood Fire Department is accepting applications until January 31st. A 2020 recruitment open house will be held from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. on December 11th. The next recruitment class will take place in February.

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