By Velena Jones

SACRAMENTO (CBS13) – Emergency calls skyrocketing, an already aggressive fire season, and staffing shortages at Sacramento Fire Department are leaving first responders in a tight spot.

“The call volumes are at record levels,” explained Local 522 Union spokesperson, Roberto Padilla. “At the end of the day, we are human, we need that rest, we need that help, we need that assistance,” he said.

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Fewer firefighters mean some trucks sit idle without a full crew to run them. On Friday, Station17 responded with only one truck to a call where a car went through a home garage. Due to staffing, another station from further away had to come to assist. Padilla said the problem can impact their response times.

“First and foremost, it’s community and public safety, and obviously, the safety of our members. They are exposed to additional workloads and they are exposed to additional workload without the backup, which is very important” he said.

Padilla gave an example of one truck’s activity, explaining their calls doubled in the last couple of years from 2,000 calls to responding to around 4,000 to 5,000 calls a year.

Sacramento Fire Department officials tell CBS13 that early retirements, vacations, and delays in training due to COVID protocols are all factors in staffing across the department. Despite this, they are still obligated to use the staffing they have to send strike teams to fight fires outside the city.

“They save lives and response times matter. If they are short on people, they might be stretched too thin — they really need that to be a priority,” explained Daryl Joe, who lives in the neighborhood District 17 services.

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Last year, Sacramento resident Manuel Ruedas was rushed to the hospital by firefighters and said their response time made all the difference.

“They were right on the spot; it really made a big difference” Ruedas explained. “If you don’t have all the resources to cover those, people are really going to be injured,” he said.

To compensate, the Department will host a special accelerated fall hiring session called a lateral academy. The plan is to hire 15 new firefighters with prior experience. Their training will be abbreviated from 22 weeks to 10, allowing firefighters to start working in December.

“There is going to be a fall academy now, almost like an emergency setting. Like it is being acknowledged that this is a real problem,” Padilla explained.

Padilla said after working with the city manager’s office on ways to increase staffing, he is glad to see the results but is also hoping this is just one step towards adding more resources.

“We need to understand that this is a good beginning to a long-term problem,” explained Padilla. “The city is booming, there’s big development all over the city, and the reality is we need to keep up,” he said.

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The lateral academy is expected to start in October. It will be the first time the department has held an accelerated academy in years.