POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – As the union president says the staffing situation has gotten worse in recent months, Polk County Fire Rescue extended its voluntary overtime limit.

“Remove the 48-hour rule and replace with 72-hour rule. Allow crewmembers to work Voluntary Overtime up to 72 hours,” reads a memo sent to Polk County Fire Rescue Battalion Chiefs.

The memo refers to a staffing process that continues to “stress” the agency and be “challenging,” amid the pandemic-related absences and other vacancies.

According to leaders from IAFF – Local 3531, the union representing PCFR employees, 43 people worked mandatory overtime and 16 people worked voluntary overtime on Saturday.

“They have to get the scheduling under control because you’re not going to have much of a department over the next couple years,” said Dionte Brown, who lives in Winter Haven.

Brown resigned from Polk Fire Rescue on Jan. 1 after working nearly five years as a paramedic. He said he wanted to work fewer hours to spend time with his young child and was denied.

“[You could] be up for a full 24 hours from 8 a.m. to 8 a.m. then they call you that next morning and say ‘Hey you’re being mandatory’d [sic]. ’ and it’s like, I’ve got no sleep. I’ve barely got to eat. I’m not really safe to feel like I can work,” he said.

A county spokesperson said Polk Fire Rescue is actively recruiting to fill a number of positions.

“This isn’t anything unusual for a department our size, especially during a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has created additional staffing challenges,” wrote Jeremy Maready, a county spokesperson.

All calls, Maready said, are being managed.

“We’ve got a serious issue,” said Commissioner George Lindsey.

Lindsey said the issue is not going unnoticed. He acknowledges Polk Fire Rescue needs to become more competitive to attract employees.

“You start with pay. Are we competitive? Who are we losing folks to and what are the circumstances they pay at?” he said.

Lindsey said the public safety staffing shortage will be a topic of conversation at a commissioners’ retreat next month.

“Do you raise taxes? Do you shift money around? What do you do?” asked News Channel 8’s Staci DaSilva about raising wages.

“Yes,” replied Lindsey.

“All of the above?” asked DaSilva.

“All of the above. All the resources at your disposal, you have to allocate directly to your highest priority,” he said.

As for the 72-hours of voluntary overtime, Lindsey said it’s a long shift.

“Well, it’s certainly not one that we would design intentionally,” he said. “72 hours is a long time.”

Leaders of IAFF – Local 3531 say they are meeting with county commissioners and other county leaders on Feb. 11.

“Local 3531 and its members continue to carry the burden of our staffing troubles which have gotten worse in the last several months. We have had more employees leave our organization in the last quarter. We are optimistic that a meeting scheduled in the beginning of February will lead to the positive change we desperately need,” wrote President Lee Stringer in a statement.