10/18/11 — City Council discusses firefighter requirements

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City Council discusses firefighter requirements

By Ty Johnson
Published in News on October 18, 2011 1:46 PM

A simple presentation about how the fire department hires firefighters turned into a half-hour discussion that left each member of the Goldsboro City Council confused at least once as Chief Gary Whaley fielded question after question about the emergency medical technician, or EMT, certification process during the council's work session Monday evening.

A policy change in February to require EMT certification for an application to even be considered led to many candidates being turned away without knowing what had disqualified them.

The previous policy had allowed firefighters to join the staff without having earned their EMT status, something required by the department, with the understanding that if they have not received the certification within two years that they would be terminated.

That hiring policy had led to many hours of overtime for schoolwork being paid for by the city for individuals who failed to become certified within the required time frame. The terminated individuals, Whaley said, represent a waste of the time invested.

City Manager Scott Stevens and Whaley determined that it would be better when applications are accepted in July, to create a short list of candidates that are ready for the second portion of certification which is available only through the department, and send out packets of information to those who did not qualify instructing them how to receive their EMT certification.

The packets instruct applicants to take a 12-week course, which is available at Wayne Community College.

After Whaley's presentation, he was questioned by the council about the policies and their changes.

"I'm just trying to figure out what you're asking for or telling us," Mayor Pro tem Chuck Allen said.

Whaley explained that he was providing information the council had requested earlier in the year.

District 4 Councilman Rev. Charles Williams appeared to be perturbed that the policy change in February, which has since been changed again, didn't come through the council.

"It didn't come through us, I know that. I've been on here 16 years," he said.

Williams' concern, which he expressed later, was that the firefighters would be disenfranchised by the requirement and that they would have nothing to work toward.

"You have hit a nerve with me," he said, noting that in his career he had been ordered to work toward a higher degree or be demoted.

"I had something to work toward," he said.

But Allen changed the subject, saying his concern with responding to rescue calls, which was a portion of Whaley's presentation, was the use of the large fire trucks. The city gave up its EMS service years ago as the county took over ambulance services for the area.

"My worry is you're responding on big fire trucks and it's very expensive and there's a lot of liability to run those big trucks," Allen said.

Allen proposed using smaller "crash" trucks that would respond only to rescue calls, but Stevens and Whaley explained that would require the purchase of five trucks and the hiring of more individuals to run them in order to keep enough firefighters at each station to answer fire calls.

Getting back on the topic of the certification, Williams asked how many firefighters in the department were certified, with Whaley explaining that all but three were long-term employees grandfathered in from when the EMT requirement was first introduced in 1996.

"What do we do with them?" District 1 Councilman Michael Headen asked.

"Legally nothing," Whaley said.

After learning that the last openings for firefighter positions were answered by 70 applications, Williams asked what good it was to apply to a job if you know you're not going to get it.

He then asked how long the hiring process takes for those who have EMT certification.

Whaley explained that after being selected the candidates must undergo an eight-week candidate physical ability test before they reach the interview portion of the hiring process.

Whaley explained, in closing, that the change to require the EMT for applications to be considered was advertised for more than a year before it was implemented.