By Tara Molina

GREAT LAKES, Ill. (CBS) — Firefighters at Naval Station Great Lakes say they need rescue – as in more help.

There is a shortage at the Navy base, and someone has to fill it – which makes for dangerously long hours. CBS 2’s Tara Molina spoke Monday to one firefighter who explained why we all need to be concerned.

Naval Station Great Lakes is more than 10 firefighters short right now, with more headed out the door. It is a big concern here for firefighters who tell Molina they are already exhausted.

People call for help from firefighters on their worst day, and everyone wants the firefighters and first responders headed their way to be at their very best.

But at Great Lakes, they are not. Brian Pagliaroni – a Great Lakes firefighter, paramedic, and president of the IAFF Local F-37 – said it’s just not possible for them to be.

“We are 12 people short,” Pagliaroni said. “It’s not safe.”

With the firefighter and first responder shortage at the base, Pagliaroni said, “If you’re not of sound body and mind, and you’re tired, you come there half-cocked.”

He said the shortage has the federal department’s remaining crew covering the massive naval base and VA – often working five days, or 120 hours straight.

“It’s exhausting,” he said. “We go home for 24 hours and come back and repeat the same thing.”

And they rush to what he says are about 16 calls a day.

Pagliaroni explained most federal firehouses have recently adopted an Alternative Work Schedule that allows firefighters and first responders more rest periods in between shifts. But not his.

The Navy Region Mid-Atlantic region, that Great Lakes Fire belongs to, is one of few federal firefighting regions that have not changed their schedule, according to Pagliaroni.

Pagliaroni said he believes this is to blame for a spike in transfer requests, a shortage of firefighters and ultimately, the often five-consecutive 24-hour shifts a week.

“It’s relying on one guy who’s been here for possibly five days to make a life-or-death situation,” he said.

And the safety risk extends beyond the fence around the naval base. When Great Lakes doesn’t have the staff to cover a call, they have to pull first responders off the streets elsewhere.

“We rely on North Chicago; we rely on Libertyville, Waukegan,” Pagliaroni said. “If you wake away Waukegan’s ambulance, now who’s responding for their municipality?”

The Great Lakes Fire Department has been asking the government – the Navy region that covers them – for a fix, for months.

“It’s the federal government,” Pagliaroni said. “It’s mind-boggling that you ask for help and it just doesn’t come.”

CBS 2’s Molina never heard back from the military representative she was directed to, but she did file a formal request for information with the Navy.

CBS 2 will be following up on this story.

Tara Molina