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Increased Need for Reservists Strains Police and Fire Forces - 2003-01-30

The Pentagon has called up another 20,000 reservists, which brings the total number of active duty reservists to nearly 79,000. A surprisingly large number of those people work as police officers and firefighters. Brian Purchia has more on the strain that military call-ups are having on local police and fire departments.

For America's police officers, and firefighters, the workload has only increased since the September 11th terrorist attacks. But their numbers are shrinking as part-time reservists are summoned for active duty. Randy Bruegman is the President of the International Association of Fire Chiefs.

"We're going to lose upwards of 75,000 firefighters over the course of the next several months with the reserve call up."

In 29 states, it is estimated that between five and 10 percent of state troopers belong to the National Guard and reserves. And there is a good chance they too will be called up. Colonel Howard Hill of West Virginia’s State Police.

"You take nine percent of what I've got now and I'm unable to staff various counties with officers to just do the necessary police actions."

Much the same for many other local police departments. In Chattanooga, Tennessee, ten percent of the police force are reservists, like Dave Lewis.

"I'll catch myself thinking, I could be in the middle of that."

And because their positions must be held for them while they're gone, many departments will have to go short-staffed. This, at a time when homeland defense is a key concern for police and fire departments. Jimmie Dotson, the Chief of Police for Chattanooga, is worried about the prospect of losing some of his most experienced officers.

"You are looking at people who are averaging anywhere from five to ten years of experience in the policing profession and you don't make up that experience overnight.

“We may be extracting the one person who is the hazardous materials specialist out of a community."

As the call-ups escalate, some police and fire officials are ready to ask for exemptions.

"I wish they would give preferences to police departments and fire departments, because we have a war to fight here on our own domestic territory, as well."

Not because those leaving are reluctant to fight.

"Let's go. Let's go and get it over with."

But because they worry that unlike the Persian Gulf War, this time around, they may be needed even more, at home.