Piedmont is recruiting for three new firefighters in an effort to bring the up to its full staffing while slashing costly overtime.
Three firefighters retired last July, which reduced department staff by 12.5 percent, from 24 to 21 firefighters, said Piedmont Fire Chief Ed Tubbs. Tubbs, who has been the fire chief for some five months, had requested that the city recruit new personnel and the city council agreed last month.
The new firefighters will be required to have at least one year of experience as a firefighter as well as a paramedic, said Stacy Thorn, who handles recruitment for Piedmont’s human resources department. That will bring the new recruits up to speed more quickly and will save the city money by not having to train them at a fire academy.
“We can show them how things are done and they can immediately go online,” Tubbs said. “That’s a huge cost savings for us.”
Cost has been a consideration in dealing with the fire department vacancies. Between July 1 and Dec. 31, the department has racked up 7,428 hours of overtime, which comes out to a total of $334,262, said Piedmont finance director Mark Bichsel.
A minimum of seven firefighters are required per 48-hour shift, Tubbs said. With only 21 firefighters available, if someone was on vacation or called in sick, “someone would have to fill in that would normally have a day off,” he said.
Both Tubbs and Mayor Dean Barbieri said that using overtime is ultimately less costly than hiring on additional employees. However, the overtime takes its toll on firefighters, impacting their performance as well as the department’s response time.
“It’s good practice to fill the vacancies,” Barbieri said, “and that’s what we’re doing.”
Tubbs said he expected a wide applicant pool as other agencies have been forced to lay off firefighters during the down economy. With benefits, it costs $150,000 to staff one firefighter, Bichsel said.
The city is offering a salary of between $7,106 and $8,161 per month, as well as medical, dental, orthondontics, vision and life insurance. The new hires will receive a uniform allowance of $1,200 a year and will also be eligible to earn a pension through the PERS retirement system beginning at age 50.
Applicants must possess a current State of California EMT-Paramedic License and California Firefighter I certificate. Candidates have until 5 p.m. on March 16 to apply. Applications and more information about the positions are available on the city website.