To put the crisis into some perspective, the IAFF conducted a "staffing survey report" of all its locals throughout the country. More than a third responded, according to the study, and the numbers are bleak.
The IAFF estimates that at least 542 locals are dealing with real or proposed layoffs and more than 5,400 positions will be lost.
Moreover, it's estimated that more than 900 local unions will lose a total of nearly 6,200 positions to attrition that are not expected to be filled anytime soon. With layoffs and lost positions through attrition, about 540 locals are facing company closures and 337 locals are looking at station closures.
Additionally, some 230 locals are, or will be, dealing with "brownouts" during this economic crisis and 212 are looking at employee furloughs.
The IAFF has nearly 300,000 career firefighters in their membership representing more than 3,100 affiliates. Its members are found in every state in the union and protect 85 percent of the nation's population.
Scanning the headlines from around the nation puts names and faces to the numbers. Some departments are laying off one firefighter while others are in the 10s and 100s.
Just to name a few who have or are planning firefighter layoffs, here's a list compiled from news headlines: Brockton, Mass.; New York City; Saratoga, Fla.; Revere, Mass.; Austin, Texas; Alameda, Calif.; Moline, Ill.; Pittsburgh, Pa.; Haverhill, Mass; and the list crisscrosses the country several times over.
One department that has sustained a 32 percent reduction of its workforce is the Muncie (Ind.) Fire Department. It saw its staff levels shaved from 110 members to 78 just last year, and that was in addition to jobs lost over the past several years from a high of 132.
Mike Whited is the president of the Muncie Firefighter IAFF Local 1348 and a sergeant with the Muncie Fire Department. The rank of sergeant is the equivalent of driver/engineer in other departments, he said.
Muncie, which is home to Ball State University and Ball Hospital, has a full-time population of about 65,000 people which swells to as much as 200,000 when school is in session and during business hours when commuters flood the city.
The department, which responds to 6,000 calls annually, including advanced life support medical calls, has had to make some adjustments to the way it does business, according to Whited.
"In 2009, we were ordered to only respond to critical ALS calls," Whited said. "That means the patient has to be unconscious at the time the 911 call is made. …I know that change in protocol has resulted loss of civilian life."
Whited said the staffing reduction has also affected fire protection. Two recent calls make his point well.
The department was called to a well-involved structure fire with roof collapse as the department arrived on the scene. It was one of those "all-hands-on-deck" fires that left the department, which was already shorthanded from the layoffs, woefully understaffed, Whited said.
"We had one truck and three guys to cover the rest of the city, including Ball State University," Whited said.
There was an incident, fortunately not at the same time, where a fire broke out in a multi-story dorm room where 2,000 students had to be evacuated, a task virtually impossible to accomplish with just three firefighters, Whited said.
There has been outcry from the citizens about the situation, but it's fallen on deaf ears, Whited said.
"The public is upset," Whited said. "We had a well attended rally, but nothing has changed."
Compounding Muncie's situation is a 2008 property tax cap, passed by the Indiana General Assembly, and the fact that 51 percent of the city is dominated by Ball State University and Ball Hospital which are both non-profit organizations and are not taxable.
The city could adopt a local property tax to help pay for emergency services, but officials have been reluctant enact that revenue source.
The only hope for Muncie is a SAFER grant. After much negotiations and sole searching Muncie is applying for a grant and hopes to know by June if it will be able to hire back firefighters forced into unemployment.
Whited said the SAFER grant is the only hope the department has at this point. "The only other choice we have is wait two years and vote them all out of office," he said.