Airway Heights Fire Dept. hiring part-time firefighters for first time ever as city grows

AIRWAY HEIGHTS, Wash. – The Inland Northwest is booming with growth and the City of Airway Heights isn’t excluded. The city is trying to hire part-time firefighters for the first time, so it can meet the need of its community.

Fire Chief Mitch Metzger and his crew are busier than ever, and it’s not even wildfire season yet.

“The calls for service are just through the roof,” Metzger said.

Calls have doubled in the last five years, according to Metzger. In 2016, he said the Airway Heights Fire Department (AHFD) responded to about 1,300 calls for service. In 2021, that number jumped to more than 2,700.

“We are over 750 calls already this year, which was the total number for the whole year when I started as fire chief 12 years ago,” Metzger said.

He attributes the higher number of calls to the growth of the city. Metzger says 26-percent of the calls they have right now come in when they’re already on another call.

Because of the high demand, he went to the city council asking for more firefighters, particularly, part-time firefighters.

“We needed to find a way to supplement our staffing and a part-time program was what was most affordable and cost-effective for the city,” he said.

The department just hired one part-time firefighter, Brenda Whittig, who has been a volunteer for AHFD. With even just one part-time addition to the department, Metzger said it will help not in just fighting fires, but also allowing other full-time staff to get administration work done and provide more educational opportunities in the city.

Now, they’re trying to hire the other five, especially in time for wildfire season.

“Having the part-time firefighters for wildland season is a huge deal. Most of those fires start early in the afternoon, two or three o’clock in the afternoon. Having those folks here to be able to get more boots on the ground immediately, gives us a better chance at catching those fires early and keeping them smaller,” Metzger said.

AHFD currently has four full-time, career firefighters right now, and that includes Metzger. The rest of the shifts are filled out by its 45 volunteers.

“I think it’s one of the greatest jobs I’ve ever done. I’m always proud of what I do and I’m always happy to do it,” said Lt. Joshua Bernsdorf, a volunteer firefighter.

It’s been difficult for the department, and many others across Spokane, to hire firefighters or even attract volunteers.

Metzger said about five years ago, he would get 30 applications for volunteers. The last time he tried gathering more volunteers, he said he only received seven applications.

“It’s very concerning,” he said.

Metzger is hopeful they’ll fill the positions to help keep the growing community safe.

In addition to hiring more staff, AHFD and the city are in the early stages of expanding. They’re looking for another location to build a new fire station, which will be put up for a vote by residents.

“Get some new equipment, hopefully, attract some more volunteers and try to keep a cost-effective for our city for as long as we can,” Metzger said.

While the website says the application for part-time firefighters was due by Friday, Metzger said people can still apply for that position or to become a volunteer firefighter. Click here for more information.

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