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A Traverse City fire station closed for the second time in two weeks

Courtesy of the Traverse City Fire Department

The Traverse City Fire Department has closed one of its stations twice in the last two weeks due to staffing issues.

This labor issue stems from the department’s reliance on overtime labor.

Traverse City Firefighters routinely work 56 hours per week. Staff say it creates a system that is vulnerable to breaking and they say they’re getting burned out.

Jacob Steichen is a firefighter paramedic with the department and President of the station's union. He says some firefighters have left the profession because of the grueling schedule.

"We're getting to a breaking point where guys are taking their days and work in the days that they can," said Steichen. "They're not willing to jeopardize their personal lives and or family lives over department issues." 

Steichen added the culture within the department has also changed and is contributing to the staffing issues.

In the past, it was normal for firefighters to push through and grind out more overtime hours when needed. That’s no longer the case.

"We're hyper aware now more than ever of behavioral health issues and dealing with sleep deprivation," Steichen said. "Our members are more educated than ever of what is right and what is okay for them and when it's time to just say enough is enough."

The default work schedule for a Traverse City Fire Department is 56 hours per week.

The Fair Labor Standards Act allows firefighters to work up to 53 hours per week before overtime pay is required. Therefore, the city pays overtime every week.

Other public service jobs work 40 hours a week for comparable salaries.

"We are working 56 hours when our counterparts in public service, water department, police officers, they're working 40 hours," Steichen added. "And we make comparable amounts of money. Anywhere from 13 to 16 hours a week is kind of what I like to call is diluted."

Traverse City Fire Chief Jim Tuller has put in a request with the city to add three more firefighters to help alleviate routine overtime.

Rick joined WCMU as a general assignment reporter in March 2022.