Prompted by difficulties filling vacancies on its fire department, Wellesley Township this week restructured the organization.
Rather than always assigning firefighters to each of the three stations – Linwood, St. Clements and Wellesley – the department will look at the township as a whole to help ensure there are always enough firefighters available for calls, especially during the day.
Addressing council Tuesday night, chief Paul Redman said the department hasn’t had enough qualified volunteers to meet existing demand. That, in turn, worsens the already difficult situation of having enough firefighters on hand to respond to daytime emergencies.
The most recent recruitment efforts by the department to fill a large number of openings received a less than adequate response, he noted. A total of three applicants from Linwood and five applicants in St. Clements were hired to fill vacant positions, leaving the departments seven short.
Revamping the organizational chart should help somewhat, Redman suggested.
“Without the numbers required to fill each stations vacancies, the township department cannot maintain its operational posture and readiness to respond to emergencies during critical periods such as weekdays and holiday/vacation seasons,” he said in a report presented to council.
Wellesley is not alone in seeing this trend, he noted. Higher standards for recruits and growing demands on people’s time – an issue for all kinds of volunteer organizations and service clubs – means a dwindling number of qualified candidates for the paid-on-call duties.
“We have to reach the same benchmarks as our full-time counterparts. It’s not like 20 years ago with the acceptability of just doing what you could – we have so many legalities and things that we have to follow,” he said. “There is only so much time in the day. People have families, people have jobs. We have to be able to have something on paper that we can show that we are providing the township with properly trained firefighters, that everyone’s coming home at the end of the calls and we are doing things as safely as possible.
“We were expecting more, but its not just us –that’s the way the industry is going,” he added of the latest recruitment drive.
His report stated the recruitment challenge does not reflect the abilities of one station in particular, but speaks to the current issues surrounding the difficulties paid-on-call departments have finding suitable candidates.
He noted that postings for a full-time position can elicit hundreds of applications, whereas work and family commitments conflict with the amount of time and dedication that is required to be a paid-on-call/volunteer firefighter.
“When you get out of a situation where you’re offering full-time career firefighters a position, with 2,000 firefighters applying for two positions, you’re getting into the paid-on-call, where you really need to be cognitive of that. We are bedroom communities. Our communities clear out during the day, so we almost have to double our numbers to roll the dice that we are going to get full trucks out for calls.”
Currently, the organizational structure places 16 firefighters below each of the four captains in Linwood, St. Clements and Wellesley. The new plan keeps four captains at each of the three stations, but goes with 48 firefighters to be distributed based on where they’re needed.
“There are operational needs that we need to meet. In the middle of the day at 2 o’clock, if we have a structure fire I need to know that there are a certain number of firefighters. At that point it doesn’t matter what station they are coming from,” he explained, noting that firefighters responding directly to where the firefighters are housed isn’t as important as having enough to cover times during the day, on holidays, and over the summer when manpower is in short supply.
“We are just going to make sure we are operationally meeting our standards and that the township is safe and covered.”
The chief said that this organizational shift would still leave one open position in the event an ideal candidate moves into one of the coverage areas of either Linwood or St. Clements before they conduct their next recruitment drive.
His proposal met with unanimous approval from councillors.
The department plans to closely monitor future trends of firefighters leaving and candidates being available to fill vacancies over the next couple of years in case there is a need for permanent revisions to the staffing structure.
The newest recruits will join the fire department as of July 1.