Burnsville Fire Chief BJ Jungmann says inadequate staffing levels and increasing 911 calls have caused the city’s combined fire and ambulance service to fall behind the demands of the community.
In recent years, there’ve been more than 150 incidents when the department had no units available to dispatch to an emergency, Jugmann told the Burnsville City Council during a work session this month.
Concurrent incidents — when there’s at least four emergencies happening at once — have also been occurring more often, he said; it happened 191 times in 2019. However, local fire officials say solving the staffing shortages isn’t only a matter of budget.
“All public safety is seeing a significant decline in applications,” Jungmann said, adding the number of minimally qualified applicants looking to join Burnsville Fire has dropped 50 percent since 2014.
During the April 13 meeting, city officials were alarmed to learn emergency calls had gone unanswered by Burnsville personnel — without any Burnsville responders available, some calls have been handled solely by mutual aid partners.
Burnsville Councilmember Dan Kealy said increasing the department’s staffing levels could be a matter of life or death.
“We have to be there with the right resources to be able to respond,” he said.
Burnsville Mayor Elizabeth Kautz agreed the responsibility to ensure adequate staffing falls to elected officials.
“We’ve got some work to do,” she said.
The city has applied for a federal SAFER grant; the acronym stands for Staffing For Adequate Fire and Emergency Response. The grant would supply Burnsville with funding to support three full-time employees for three years.
With or without the grant, city staff say they’re working to draw up a proposal to match the department’s staffing levels to the needs of the community.
“It’s very difficult for them when they can’t serve the community and the needs are greater than what they can provide,” Jungmann said of the department’s responders. “They feel like they’ve let the community down.”
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Author: Christine Schuster