Special Report: Who Will Answer the Call?

It’s a crisis plaguing our country.

Serving your community as a firefighter used to be a sought after role but that doesn’t seem to be the case anymore.

We wanted to hear how this impacts our local departments in a special report that begs the question…who will answer the call?

The second the tone goes off firefighters are called to duty.

Running towards what most run away from.

“Every single day the guys that put a badge on are risking their lives,” said Grand Traverse Metro Fire Department firefighter Daren Mansfield.

But now more than ever, finding people to run towards the risk and fill the departments, is a challenge.

“We see more full time firefighter postings than ever,” said Lieutenant Kyle Clute, Grand Traverse Metro Fire Department.

“Back when I started, there was always a waiting list to get onto a department,” said Captain Mark Shaul, with Grand Traverse Metro Fire Department.

It’s a problem that’s not unique to Northern Michigan or even the state.

Whether its full time, paid on call or volunteer, departments across the country have seen a decline in applications but the question is why?

Chiefs here in Northern Michigan agree one of the biggest barriers is increased training and added requirements over the years.

“Simply just to get trained up as a firefighter takes approximately 300 hours,” said Grand Traverse Metro Fire Department Assistant Chief Steve Apostal.

That’s partially because they’re not just responding to fires.

Grand Traverse Metro Fire Department says of their 4,800 runs per year, 75 percent are medical related.

“They also have to attend training for medical, at least at Metro, and the minimum is medical first responder which takes another 90 hours and we ultimately like our employees to be a basic EMT and that’s nearly 300 hours of training,” said Apostal.

Some departments even require going through a paramedic program, adding another year and a half of training.

And as the world we live in changes so do the responsibilities these local heroes carry.

“We’re doing training with rescue task force for active shooter assailant situations,” said Apostal. “Some people never thought in the world they would wear ballistic vest and helmets in this job and carried in a rig to respond to a call but that’s the world we live in now and we have to be prepared for those things.”

A hard commitment to make whether you’re a volunteer with another full time job or a full time firefighter who has committed their life to protecting others.

“It’s tough, it is, I’m kind of one of those guys that I make sure I kiss my wife and kids goodbye every day because you don’t know,” said Mansfield.

On top of the training and the risk, departments are seeing fewer applications because of a lack of incentive and benefits.

“We have talked as chiefs about formulating a plan for how can we get these people, how can we collectively as a big group go after these people and get them to come to our departments,” said Peninsula Township Fire Department Chief Fred Gilstorff.

Because when you become a firefighter, you don’t just gain a job but a family.

“Once you’re in, you’re in,” said Traverse City Fire Department Chief Jim Tuller. “Across the country you can go to any fire department and say I’m a firefighter, I need some help; they’ll drop everything and they’ll help you and that’s not like that in other professions.”

Despite the changes and difficulties, these men and women can’t imagine a life where they’re not serving their community.

“I still love it, still love waking up in the morning putting that uniform on, wouldn’t want to do anything else,” said Whitewater Township Fire Department Chief Brandon Flynn.

“A lot of guys will tell you it’s really rewarding, it’s really fulfilling,” said Clute. “There are moments of lows but each moment of low probably has ten highs.”

“Each day is something different that we see and each day is a new adventure and we never know what we’re going to face and what challenges people are going to have and they call us to come and help them out,” said Blair Township Fire Department Bill Parker.

All of these departments say they need your help and their doors are always open.

So if you have any questions or think this service might be for you, stop in and they would be happy to answer any questions you have.