The city of Warren is looking to find, train and hire firefighters. Candidates must be 18 years old, and residency is not required.

The city of Warren is looking to find, train and hire firefighters. Candidates must be 18 years old, and residency is not required.

Photo by Brian Louwers

Warren Fire Department ready to up its hiring game

City preparing to go ‘outside the box’ to find, train and hire personnel

By: Brian Louwers | Warren Weekly | Published October 26, 2021


WARREN — Down 18 people from its budgeted staffing level and competing with other agencies to fill its ranks and keep equipment rolling, the Warren Fire Department is getting creative in its efforts to find, train and hire firefighter/paramedics.

Pending ink on a final agreement between the city and the union, the process could go into high gear in the coming weeks, with up to 30 slots available in an apprenticeship program that officials hope will bring candidates to the department for a paid education with the support of a part-time salary, training with the department and, eventually, full-time employment at a competitive firefighter/paramedic wage.

“We are planning to sponsor kids, young people. We will pay their expenses for the fire academy, and we will be accepting applications very soon,” Warren Fire Commissioner Wilburt “Skip” McAdams said.

Candidates must be at least 18 years old, and residency is not a requirement.

McAdams said the application window was scheduled to open Oct. 25 and that applications would be available for download on the city’s website. They can be submitted to the city’s Human Resources Department directly between 8:30 a.m. and 5p.m. Monday through Friday, or during a planned open house in Warren’s City Hall atrium from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Nov. 6.

McAdams said all potential candidates were encouraged to attend the open house, where they will have an opportunity to ask questions and get answers. The application window, McAdams said, will close at the conclusion of the open house, where candidates will also have an opportunity to schedule oral boards.

The city will then pay for up to 30 selected candidates to take the emergency medical technician basic training course at Dorsey College, in Madison Heights. McAdams said the city would pay all costs associated with that training and would also offer support in the form of an educational supplement during training of up to 28 hours a week in salary.

“Those that complete that class will move on to the fire academy sometime in January or February 2022,” McAdams said.

Following the 10-week academy, McAdams said candidates could be hired full time in the spring, pending an agreement between the city and the Warren Professional Firefighters Union Local 1383. Because they would still have to complete a full paramedic course that will not begin until fall 2022, McAdams said the agreement and contract addendum would require the creation of an additional classification within the department, as all Warren firefighters are required to be cross-trained as paramedics.

“We’re stepping out here, but what else are we going to do? There’s just not enough candidates out there,” McAdams said.

He added, “We’re investing in them, and we want them to be committed to us. We want them to be successful and we’re going to remove as many obstacles as we can so they can be successful and have a career in the fire service.”

Part of the agreement would reportedly involve a pay increase for Warren’s full-time firefighter/paramedics, making that regular salary more competitive with neighboring municipalities. Warren is currently on the lower end of the pay scale at $70,072 annually. McAdams said making the department competitive would mean increasing that salary by between $5,000 and $8,000.

Meeting operational staffing requirements during the pandemic and labor shortage, keeping fire stations open and all the department’s equipment in service has meant asking the city’s rank and file firefighter/paramedics to work overtime. McAdams said the department is on track to rack up $2.5 million in overtime over the current fiscal year that ends June 30 if the labor issues continue. That is more than twice its budgeted amount of $1.2 million.

“To a point, there probably are some savings in paying employees overtime, but in the long run, you lose with the pension costs,” McAdams said. “It’s better to hire people to do the job.”

That is not to mention the strain that amount of overtime puts on crews who work 24-hour shifts.

“It’s better to have a right-sized workforce than to rely on overtime to meet your staffing needs,” McAdams said.

Joe Schehr, a Warren firefighter/paramedic and the union local’s president, said he could not discuss the specifics of the plan pending an agreement with the city.

‘We’re in discussions with them. We’re working on a tentative agreement with the city, improving the collective bargaining agreement, our contract, basically, making us more competitive in the marketplace,” Schehr said. “We’ve lost firefighters to other municipalities, so we’re trying to attack this from really two approaches. We’re trying to be able to recruit and retain new men and women for the Fire Department.”    

He said the agreement was not finalized, but said the sides were working toward a common goal.

“We want to have a fully staffed Fire Department,” Schehr said. “That’s what our common goal is, to have a fully staffed department, so we can get back to full staffing. Because right now, the firefighters really have kept all the stations open. They’re coming every day, a lot of them even on overtime, working countless extra shifts, just to make sure that every day, the citizens, when they pick up the phone and need our help, that we’re there.”

Schehr said full staffing would put 40 firefighters on duty each shift across Warren’s six fire stations. With the shortage, he said the department could run with all stations open and all equipment in service with a minimum of 34 firefighters per shift, some of whom are working overtime.

Of course, overtime for personnel in the fire station means more time away from families and their own lives.

“It just shows the commitment that all these men and women have to the residents and to the city that we serve,” Schehr said. “These guys are missing family functions. They’re missing birthdays. They’re missing holidays. But again, that’s the commitment that we all share to the community, to the people. The people in the city have always supported us and we will always support them.

“I think the mayor, the administration and the union have really come together to make sure everything stays in service,” Schehr said.

Sources said the city’s cost to put 30 people through the EMT basic training class at Dorsey would be about $52,000 for tuition and fees. After that, the cost of the fire academy for all 30 would be about $105,000. The city’s cost for the paramedic course beginning in 2022 would be about $115,000 for all 30 candidates.

“I’m excited about it because right now, it’s very difficult and challenging to get firefighters throughout the country, not just in Warren,” Warren Mayor Jim Fouts said.

He said recruiting young people who live in the city and have a stake in its future by offering education, financial support, good benefits and a chance to jump-start a career as a firefighter/paramedic is a “proposal that young people might not turn down.”

“It’s a small price,” Fouts said. “It’s well worth the investment.”

Warren City Councilman Garry Watts said he’s been concerned about personnel levels at the Fire Department for years.

“I think it’s a start,” Warren City Councilman Garry Watts said of the plan to jump-start the hiring process. “I don’t think we can do it any faster than that, to be honest. They’ve dragged their feet so long.”

Watts said any plan to bring people on board would certainly require the more attractive salary and benefits package to make Warren a “go-to” department again, as he said it was in years past, and not a “transient” department, where firefighters hire in, gain experience and leave for greener pastures.

He said city officials have cut salary and benefits for years in favor of building up the city’s cash reserves, and that now they’re now struggling to regain competitiveness and hire people, even beyond the hardships seen elsewhere in public service staffing.

“I don’t think there’s an excuse to be short,” Watts said. “I think if we have a hiring list, if we get the pay and benefits package where it needs to be, there’s always going to be someone on that list.”

Beyond what could soon be competitive pay, paid education and advanced training, Schehr said candidates would get a foot in the door for a career at a great department.

“We’re a very traditional fire service department. We still fight fires. We’re active with that,” Schehr said. “We have a great bunch of men and women that are employed by the city and you won’t go wrong by coming to our department.

“We’re a large fire family. We always have been that way, always will be,” Schehr said.

Applications will be available on the city’s website at beginning Oct 25. They can be submitted directly at the open house on Nov. 6, held in the City Hall atrium at 1 City Square, east of Van Dyke Avenue and north of 12 Mile Road, or to the Human Resources Department at the same address prior to the conclusion of the open house.

For more information, call (586) 574-4670.