Cost of pre-exam training hurting search for firefighter candidates

Clark County firefighter shortage linked to training changes

Local fire departments have seen a drop in the number of recruits applying for open positions, and leaders said changes to training requirements could be behind the decrease.

Training that recruits can afford — including high school students using College Credit Plus program to pay for the classes — and getting the word out about open positions for full and part-time jobs in the field are tools Clark State Community College directors hope will fill the gap.

“There’s jobs out there, so it’s just about connecting the dots between training and the fire houses that are in need,” said Jeremy Linn, who directs the Fire Services program at Clark State Community College.

Many departments, including the Springfield Fire Rescue Division, now require recruits to have initial training certificates completed before they can be hired, said Brian Miller, assistant fire chief.

Local and state budgets cuts prompted the changes, Miller said.

“It’s dollar driven when it was taking taxpayer money to buy books and send them to school, so now we’ve passed that burden on to the applicants,” he said.

Springfield is the only fire house in the county to staff full-time, called a “career” position.

But many smaller fire houses that used to rely on volunteer firefighters are seeing that volunteer and part-time positions are going unfilled, Linn said.

“Everybody could be affected by this — you never know when you’re going to need police, fire or EMS,” Linn said about the need to fill emergency response roles in the community.

The U.S. has more than 1.1 million firefighters nationwide. The majority of them — nearly 800,000, or 69 percent — are volunteers, according to the National Volunteer Fire Council, a nonprofit membership association representing the interests of the volunteer fire, medic and rescue services.

The number of volunteer firefighters has dropped 12 percent nationwide, from nearly 900,000 in 1984 to about 786,000 in 2013, while call volumes have tripled, according to the council.

The Springfield civil service exam for firefighters used to attract hundreds of applicants in the early 1990s, Miller said, but only 60 people sat down for the most recent test.

Caleb Horner is 17 years old and will be a senior at Springfield Clark Career Technology Center this fall. But in a few weeks he’ll also graduate from the Firefighter 1 and Firefighter 2 training from Clark State.

Horner’s using College Credit Plus programs offered through local high schools to pay for the Clark State classes.

“People say ‘how are you doing that, you’re only 17!’ but the resources are there and, if you take advantage of them, you can do it,” Horner said.

The teen’s been a cadet at the Springfield Township Fire Department for four years and said he wants to make the job his career.

Others in the Clark State course, like Cedarville student Ryan Evans, said the affordability of the community college training will allow him to pursue volunteering at the fire department.

“I wanted to volunteer because my entire family is firefighters. It started with my grandfather and then my father and all of my uncles,” the Maryland native said.

He’s currently volunteering with the Cedarville Fire Department.

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