Kettering and Washington Twp. are among the communities searching for more full-time firefighters and paramedics as departments shift away from part-timers, which could come at extra cost.
Finding those full-timers can be challenging because of concerns about pay and the hazards of the position, said Doug Stern, director of communications and public relations for the Ohio Association of Professional Fire Fighters.
“When I came on more than 20 years ago, we all knew we could get burned or fall and hurt ourselves,” he said. “Now, we are finding out about heart disease, cancer, and every illness that is job-related. It doesn’t make it as attractive of a job, and cities are cutting back on their payroll, so they are not paying as well. There are increased certifications you must go through to get the job.”
Departments often focus their recruiting on “instilling the idea that public service is a noble profession and part of it is taking better care of first responders as employees,” he said.
Kettering City Manager Mark Schwieterman said one new recruitment strategy includes hosting open firefighter/paramedic examinations in an effort to build a pool of candidates who meet qualifications when new positions open.
“This speeds along the recruitment process to get the positions filled quickly so that 24/7 emergency staffing levels are maintained,” he said. “It also helps those who may be interested in a future firefighter/paramedic career understand the training they can be getting now to be ready to qualify for positions.”
He added that Kettering has also stepped up its efforts to use outlets like its official government Facebook page, Twitter posts and monthly Starter Community E-newsletter to make sure the community is aware of opportunities like the open exams and positions when they occur. Stacy Schweikhart, Kettering’s community information manager, said the posts and pages about the positions have been among the most popular for the city this year.
The Washington Twp. Fire Department plans to hire 12 new full-time firefighters this year to help fill a staffing gap caused by a shortage of part-time firefighters.
“Staffing extensively with part-time firefighters has benefited fire departments and taxpayers for many years, but the benefit is running out,” said Washington Twp. Fire Chief Bill Gaul.
“Despite an aggressive recruitment campaign with financial incentives to attract and retain part-time staff, the positions have gone unfilled, forcing the department to hire more full-time firefighters at a higher cost, which will ultimately require additional revenue in coming years.”
He explained that the need for full-time firefighter positions does not end there.
“With part-time firefighters being harder to find, we anticipate we’ll need to hire even more full-time firefighters to maintain staffing,” Gaul said.
To fully staff equipment at the township’s five fire stations without routinely paying overtime requires 28 people on duty at all times.
With the new full-timers on board, 16 of the slots will be filled with full-time staff, leaving 12 slots budgeted for part timers. The department has only been able to fill a little more than eight slots with part-time staff, which a greater decline possible, Gaul said.
“This has been a constantly shifting target. It’s been a challenge because, like many departments, our budget has been built around the availability of part-time staff,” Gaul said. “Staffing with part-time firefighters costs less, and hourly pay is only part of it. Unlike full-time employees, part-time firefighters do not receive health insurance benefits and are paid only for the hours they work, not vacation, holidays or sick leave.”
The upcoming Kettering firefighter/paramedic examination will be held at 9 a.m. on Oct. 20 at Fairmont High School. State of Ohio EMT-B and Level II Firefighter is required at the time of application. State of Ohio EMT/Paramedic certification is not required at the time of test or application, but it is required at the time of interview to be considered for appointment.
The entry salary is $65,686 with potential to advance to $86,278. To apply, download application packet and exam reservation form from the City of Kettering website at https://www.ketteringoh.org/job/firefighter-paramedic-examination/ or contact the Kettering Human Resource Department at 937-296-2446. The application deadline is 5 p.m. on Oct. 8.
Those looking to join the Washington Twp. Fire Department must return a completed application, questionnaire, resume and cover letter to be eligible to take the next exam. Those materials are available on the township’s website.