Kenai Fire Chief Mike Tilly is readying the job postings to hire new firefighters -- the first additional department positions since 1994.
"Total call volume for the department has gone up an incredible amount over these past 16 years," he said.
With the unanimous passage of an ordinance appropriating money for the positions Wednesday night, Kenai City Council added three new firefighters to its force. The city will spend some $175,493 to fund the positions for the remainder of the fiscal year.
"This has been a long time coming," said Bob Molloy, council member.
During the fiscal year 2011 process earlier this summer, hiring additional firefighting staff was an identified priority for the council. However, the creation of these positions was postponed pending the outcome of a grant that would have covered the emergency personnel's salaries and benefits.
The city did not get the grant so it looked inside its own coffers for the funding.
According to the finance director Terry Eubank, hiring the three firefighters for the remaining eight months of the fiscal year will result in a $112,807 deficit in the general fund budget.
Hiring three additional firefighters, who will be cross-trained as emergency medical technicians, means the city will have one additional responder per shift.
Tilly said that in addition to the increased call volume to the Kenai Fire Department over the years, the department also added another station at the airport, which is manned 24/7.
"We're only running with three guys out of this main station," he said.
Ryan Marquis, who ran for Kenai council last fall on a platform of adequate public safety staffing, was pleased with the action to increase the fire department's personnel.
"Our firefighters have been working really hard and doing the best they can with the staff they have now," he said.
Tilly said the hiring of more staff will enable them to respond more effectively to emergencies without having to re-call off-duty firefighters.
"It's that initial response that we'll be able to make the biggest change, whether it's fighting fires or extricating people," he said. "It's not uncommon where we have two or three emergencies happening at the same time. This will expand our ability to be able to handle multiple emergencies."
Tilly said he's planning to post the positions later this month to state and national job centers. The department is hoping to hire the three firefighters from within the state of Alaska, he said.
"We're relatively confident that the next hires would come from within the state if not within our own community," Tilly said.
Brielle Schaeffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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