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Fire departments having hard time hiring new heroes, says time and costs are a factor

Lights of a fire truck.
Posted at 6:31 PM, Jan 05, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-05 19:53:41-05

Firefighters put it all on the line.

Running towards danger and not away from it, but in recent years, local departments are finding it hard to hire new heroes, and it has nothing to do with the dangerous job.

In a reoccurring battle that local fire departments now find themselves facing, firefighters say they're seeing fewer interested candidates.

“It's gotten smaller primarily because the requirements to become a police officer or a firefighter have substantially increased. It takes a lot of time; it takes a lot of money,” said Parma Fire Department Public Information Officer T.J. Martin.

To be a firefighter, Parma Fire Public Information Officer T.J. Martin says a candidate has to first go through Emergency Medical Technician training.

But that's a big out of pocket investment – applicants spend about $1,500, and put in 170 hours of training, which is only the start.

“After that, that's where the big-time commitment and financial commitment comes in because it's paramedic training,” explained Martin.

The price tag on that — $6,500, and it takes a year and one month to complete. But they're not done! Next round: firefighting training.

“You're at about two and a half to three years,” said Martin. “A lot of people can't afford that either a, because of financial burdens or b, because of time and family commitments.”

With rising costs, Martin and Mentor Fire Lieutenant Brian Bittner understand how these factors can create barriers for interested candidates.

“There is some time and costs involved in that as well. It isn't just you have to have the certifications to apply for the job,” said Bittner.

Traditionally, Lt. Bittner says they would see hundreds of applicants.

But on their last round of tests, they only saw 47 qualified applicants: Parma just 46.

“We went from having a list of 200 people to choose from down to about 47 for full-time and that's actually large in the area, there's many local cities that are under 10 applicants taking the test, going through the process for the career spots,” said Lt. Bittner.

Lt. Bittner says their department is working to get ahead of the curve thanks to a new partnership at Mentor High School they started a couple years ago.

“We wanted to get something together in our city where the senior students can start their schooling towards this type of certification,” said Lt. Bittner.

In return, these students are qualified to take the EMT test, which saves time, money and helps boost recruitment.

“Anywhere where we can get some recruitment or get a pipeline into our industry is what we're looking to do,” said Lt. Bittner.

Parma Fire says the pandemic put a lot of stress on firefighters, because some quit over safety concerns; others became burned out due to staffing shortages.

They now have a grant – alleviating some of that pressure - while they work to rebuild their team, and that involved hiring two additional firefighters to offset some of the job-related stress.

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