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Five Akron firefighters lend Louisiana support during wildfires as department faces strain at home

Ambulance, Akron Fire Department
TIm Rudell

The Akron Fire Department sent five firefighters to Louisiana to help staff stations while crews fight wildfires. This comes as the department faces long hours and budget strain since ending its contract with the private ambulance service American Medical Response at the end of July.

Employees at the Akron Fire Department are working longer hours to make up for the loss of AMR’s services, Akron Fire Chief Joseph Natko said. He said the department still chose to send help to Louisiana because he believes it was the right thing to do.

“It's what we do, we help, somebody calls, we help. If we were in that same situation and we were asking another state to come in and help us, we would greatly want help,” he said. “At the end of the day it’s what we do.”

The five Akron firefighters, along with four from Green and four from Cuyahoga Falls, will be deployed for 14 days, helping to cover cities, homes and structures while local fireighting crews battle the wildfires.

In the past few weeks, Natko said the department has spent on average an extra 17 minutes on runs where they must take someone to the hospital compared to under the contract with AMR. He said this is continuing to weigh on his staff.

“They are not getting used to this. They were physically and emotionally tired before,” he said. “The increased amount of time they spend in the field after every incident kind of adds to the burden.”

Given the stress the department is under, they are compensating for sending firefighters to Louisiana by hiring and offering overtime, Natko said.

“That comes at a cost, not just not just a financial cost, but it comes at a cost to our personnel,” he said. “We didn’t do it lightly.”

Moving forward, the department hopes to make investments to bridge the gap. Natko said they have begun the hiring process to bring on more staff, and ambulances are on order.

The chief said the department is doing its best to handle the increased workload for now, but it must prepare for more issues with the upcoming flu season and the recent uptick in COVID cases.

“When that happens at the hospitals, when somebody is admitted in the hospital, it kind of backs all the way up, down to the emergency room, that's when we will see an impact. And that is what our biggest concern is right now,” he said. “So we are monitoring it. We are in constant contact with the hospitals.”

Grace Springer is a journalism student at Kent State University. She is the General Assignment Editor for KentWired and covers executive administration for student media.