MACOMB TOWNSHIP — There will be a new batch of paid on-call firefighters joining the ranks in Macomb Township next month as part of the latest hiring wave at the Fire Department.
The Board of Trustees voted unanimously on Feb. 12 to authorize a request made by Human Resources Director John Brogowicz to extend offers of employment to eight additional firefighters. The Macomb Township Fire Department is permitted to have a maximum of 100 employees divided between its four stations. Once these new hires are finalized, the department will be equipped with 76 paid on-call firefighters, and eight full-time officer and administrative positions.
Brogowicz stated that the recruiting process for firefighters has been ongoing since the board agreed to extend it indefinitely on Sept. 14, 2011. According to Fire Chief Robert Phillips, during his eight years with the township, the department reached the full 100 allotted employees only once — for a few days in January 2011, he said — but that number quickly began to decline as firefighters moved on to other communities. However, this revolving door of recruits is all part of the township’s long-term strategy.
“The model we have is that guys come here to gain some knowledge and experience, and then hopefully they can move on to a full-time firefighting job elsewhere,” Phillips explained. “So we are always recruiting, always trying to keep our numbers up. I’ve been on the paid on-call side of things my whole career, and I think it’s a great model.”
The pool of potential firefighters is limited by the fact that they all must be Macomb Township residents in order to be considered for the job. Still, even as the township’s population continues to expand, it is able to provide fire protection services 24 hours a day, seven days a week across its 36 square miles.
“We are always adequately covered, and we want to keep it that way,” said Supervisor Janet Dunn, who is part of the township’s Firefighter Selection Committee along with Phillips, Treasurer Karen Goodhue and Trustee Dino Bucci. “But because there’s such a large turnover here, we have to keep hiring new firefighters to replace the ones who leave. We train them so well that they eventually move on to full-time firefighting jobs at other departments.”
Of the eight new township employees, half are certified firefighters, while the other half are only recruits at this point. Recruits are not yet full-fledged firefighters but are on track to get there in the near future, Phillips said. He pointed out that all recruits have 18 months to complete the two phases of their firefighter training, as well as basic emergency medical technician (EMT) training.
The township’s most recent recruiting process yielded a total of 19 applications for the open positions, Brogowicz said. Last November, the Human Resources Department issued a written test to 17 of those applicants, and the Fire Department later administered an agility test to the top 14 among them. The passing candidates were then brought in for interviews before the Selection Committee in January, which resulted in the endorsement of the eight current finalists.
Dunn stressed that a shortage of qualified firefighters is never a problem in Macomb Township. There are typically two different types of candidates who apply, she noted: young recruits straight out of high school or college looking for work experience, and men in their 30s and 40s seeking to provide for their families.
“Certainly, there are always plenty of new candidates to choose from,” Dunn said. “All little boys want to be firemen when they grow up, so we’ll always have that on our side. Those younger guys really use this experience as a stepping stone for their career, and a lot of the older ones have a wife and kids at home that they’re trying to support until they can find something full-time.”
As Phillips stated, the number of hours that Macomb Township’s paid on-call firefighters work varies significantly, but they make about $17 per hour while on standby and about $25 per hour after being called in for duty. Each firefighter is on standby for eight hours, but some of them work a lot more shifts than others.
“Our model works so well that some other communities have expressed interest in copying what we do,” Phillips said. “When I first came here in 2006, we only had 41 or 42 firefighters and five full-time people, but we have grown quite a bit since then. The demographics of the township keep changing, and we’ve changed along with them. Thirty or 40 years ago, we were mainly an agricultural community — now, we have evolved into much more of a suburban community.”
According to Brogowicz, the eight new firefighters’ offers of employment are contingent upon their successful completion of a handful of tests: a psychological evaluation, a physical examination, a drug and alcohol screening, and a background check. Their first day on the job could be as early as March 3, but Phillips estimated that the date would be pushed back until later in the month.
Once they come on board, though, they will immediately have a host of seasoned veterans to mentor them through these early stages. This is a big reason why, despite the township’s nontraditional model of fire protection, Phillips is confident that its firefighters are every bit as good as those from more conventional departments.
“Our guys have a terrific level of training, knowledge and experience,” the chief said. “In fact, most of them are more skilled than the majority of full-time firefighters out there. They are very dedicated to their job, and I would put them up against guys from any fire department in the country.”