KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The Knoxville Fire Department has about 327 employees and 15 openings, said Assistant Chief Mark Wilbanks. He said KFD is still operating despite its minimum staffing.
Each fire truck needs to have three firefighters, even though the national standard is four people on a firetruck. Battalion Chief Kevin Faddis said not having four firefighters makes the job slower because they're required to enter buildings two at a time.
"If we have four on a truck, we have that," Faddis said. "Two in, two out."
However, with only three, Chief Faddis said they can't work as quickly.
However, Chief Wilbanks said firehouses haven't closed because of the shortages, since many of the firefighters pick up extra shifts, either because they want to or because they are required to work them.
Knoxville firefighters normally work 24-hour workdays. However, if someone has a day off, other firefighters have to cover for that person or someone has to work forced overtime. In that scenario, Wilbanks said it's possible for someone to work a 48-hour day.
"It's not 24 hours a day," said Battalion Chief Kevin Faddis. "Sometimes it's 48, 72, 96 [hours]."
Chief Faddis joined the Knoxville Fire Department in 1996. He said he's been fighting for higher wages for 18 years. He said firefighters don't sit around waiting for calls. They're usually responding to medical emergencies, training or de-briefing from the previous call.
The Battalion Chief said firefighters can't leave the station for those shifts. They have to stay alert for incoming calls.
"When your hot water heater's blown up and your wife's calling you at 7,8,9 o'clock at night saying, 'What do I do?'" Faddis said. "It's like, 'I can't leave. I'm at work.'"
Chief Faddis said the opioid epidemic made the job busy for him and his firefighters, too.
"We're first responders," said Chief Faddis. "We run medical calls, we do public assists for people that are injured, elderly."
Chief Faddis said firefighters can do almost anything from their truck that an ambulance can, except transport a patient to the hospital. So, they may also respond to calls for medical emergencies.
Last week, the Knoxville City Council approved the Mayor's budget which would give all Knoxville employees a 6% pay increase. Knoxville firefighters would get about a 10% pay increase, according to city officials.