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Want to be a fireman?

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February 10, 2006

Albany -- One day your life could depend on the quick work of a well-trained firefighter, but many departments don't have as many firefighters as they need.

The shortage of police officers has gotten a lot of attention, but the Albany Fire Department is also understaffed. Tough work and low pay make it difficult to recruit enough firemen.

Ricky Thompson goes over the jaws of life, to make sure everyone knows how to use it when needed. A firefighter and truck driver for the Albany Fire Department for five years, Thompson knows he could make more money elsewhere. "Geting to help people and seeing that need being filled by the people gives you a good sense of accomplishment," he said.

The Albany Fire Department should have 159 firefighters. They hired six new people last month, so they are only nine firefighters short now. Fire Chief James Carswell said, "I don't remember being fully staffed in the last four or five years."

With a starting salary of $25,300, finding a state certified firefighter to take the job is hard. Getting them to stick around can be tougher, because they can go to other states or cities and make much more.

Chief Carswell said "When they are paying $16, $18, $20 an hour, we just can't compete."

Based on a 40-hour week, 52 weeks a year, that salary computes to $12.16 per hour to start.

New City Manager Alfred Lott says Albany has to be more competitive to keep their firefighters. "They could go elsewhere and do very well. Especially someone with three or four years experience. And we don't want that."

Being short staffed could be life threatening for a firefighter. "At some point it becomes much more danger because fatigue sets in and you start making mistakes," Carswell said.

Thompson says he is a firefighter despite the money, because he wants to help people. "It's more about what you want to do, than how much money you want to make," Thompson said.

But Albany leaders want to get Thompson and the other public safety officers more money and benefits, so they are ready when needed.

A firefighter must undergo about 350 hours of training a year and pass a physical ability test. They're on duty for 24 hours, then off 48 hours.

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