After five years without a new class of city firefighters, city officials and the Fort Wayne Fire Department Monday announced a $1.2 million plan to get more firefighters beginning next year.
The department will add 15 firefighters using taxpayer dollars collected through a local option income tax approved by the City Council, officials said.
After five years of having to do more with less and not being able to staff a class, the city of Fort Wayne’s fire department is now hiring again, Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry announced Monday, surrounded at Station 1 by city firefighters and several City Council members.
Fire Chief Amy Biggs said the department’s goal is to hire 15 well-rounded, qualified firefighters from diverse cultural backgrounds.
We want people who represent our community, she said. The path is not easy, but the reward is gratifying.
The fire department is currently staffed with 340 firefighters, Biggs said.
The 15 new candidates will bring the department closer to the 375 mark, the maximum number of firefighters the department is allowed to have, Biggs said.
The last time the Fort Wayne Fire Department hired a new class of firefighters was in 2008.
In recent years, the fire department has reduced the number of fire investigators from seven to five, building inspectors from 10 to 7, and public education officials from three to two, Biggs said earlier this year.
In doing so, the department has increased the workload for others in those positions and has had to sacrifice some of the programs related to fire prevention and awareness.
The hiring of new firefighters begins with an application process that began Monday and will continue through July 26.
The applicants will then be given a written exam and an orientation for the candidate physical ability test, or CPAT. Candidates will have up to eight weeks to prepare for the CPAT.
After the orientation, candidates will perform the CPAT, a panel interview, background investigation, fire chief interview and state agility testing including tests for acrophobia and claustrophobia.
If candidates remain eligible, they will then undergo a psychological and medical exam and seek approval from the pension board and merit commission before being appointed to the 17-week firefighter academy.
The entire process is expected to take between nine and 10 months, with a graduation date of May 2014, Biggs said.
A new local option income tax approved in June by the Fort Wayne City Council will pay for most of the $1.2 million needed for a class of 15 firefighters, she said.
The $1.2 million includes funding for the academy class, administrators for exams and other components of the hiring process – as well as money to pay current firefighters overtime until the seats are filled, Biggs said.
Marty Bender, a city councilman and deputy police chief, said the council spent more than a year examining the city’s finances to find the best way to provide the funding the fire department needed for a new class.
That’s where we came up with the idea to use the (local option income tax) that the state legislature made available to us, he said.
Some of the other ideas that were put forth would have got us to about the same spot, but they wouldn’t have been sustainable.
In about two or three years, we would have to go through this again and figure out where we were going to get that money.