The West Bloomfield Fire Department is in the process of hiring new firefighter/paramedics.

The West Bloomfield Fire Department is in the process of hiring new firefighter/paramedics.

File photo by Deb Jacques


West Bloomfield police, fire departments face hiring hurdles

Departments face ‘significant decline in the number of folks that are interested in going into public service’

By: Mark Vest | West Bloomfield Beacon | Published November 18, 2020

 The West Bloomfield Police Department has started the process of hiring more police officers.

The West Bloomfield Police Department has started the process of hiring more police officers.

File photo by Donna Agusti

 Two police academy trainees are pictured on the campus of Oakland Community College. OCC Dean of Public Services and Director of Law Enforcement Training David Ceci said the controversy surrounding law enforcement nationally is “inspiring people to get into the profession for the right reasons.”

Two police academy trainees are pictured on the campus of Oakland Community College. OCC Dean of Public Services and Director of Law Enforcement Training David Ceci said the controversy surrounding law enforcement nationally is “inspiring people to get into the profession for the right reasons.”

Photo provided by David Ceci

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WEST BLOOMFIELD — Despite an unpredictable, rollercoaster year of events, the West Bloomfield police and fire departments each recently had postings for open positions, with the township seeking police officers and firefighters/paramedics.

The Police Department had two positions available; the Fire Department had three.

Those job postings ended Nov. 6.

The application period has closed, but at press time, there were still steps that remained to be taken before making official hires for both departments.

Overall, there are currently 80 police officer positions within the department.

The township has budgeted for 61 firefighters/paramedics.

The COVID-19 pandemic has created challenges for both departments during the hiring process this year.

“It’s made it much more difficult to have personal communication,” said police Lt. Erik Tilli. “The oral board process — while that’s still in person — everybody wears masks and we maintain a large social distancing space, which makes it a little less of a personal touch to it.”

Fire Chief Greg Flynn discussed a different challenge brought about by the pandemic.

“It’s impacted folks because it was harder, especially early on, for the pre-employment tests that our third parties administer,” Flynn said. “For folks to schedule and have access when everything was shut down, it was very challenging. How do we get pre-employment tests done if our third-party vendors closed down because of COVID-19 restrictions?”

That wasn’t the only issue caused by COVID.

“The other thing is we do a physical ability screening, call it a test or assessment, and those weren’t running during the pandemic,” Flynn said. “Since then, those have started up again, but they’re limited, and they’re limiting the number of participants. So that makes it more challenging for a candidate to get all of their required things in alignment.”

Flynn said, “we took deep breaths and were patient with our candidates” during the process.

“Normally, our human resources department wouldn’t even take an incomplete application, but they agreed, as part of making sure that we get great candidates and understanding the challenges that those candidates were having,” Flynn said. “We were accepting incomplete applications, but no employment was given without a complete application. You could get into the process, but along that way, you needed to be working on getting this criteria, because if you didn’t have a complete application when it came time for an offer of employment, then you were not going to be considered.”

Aside from the pandemic, there has been another issue with public safety jobs.

Flynn said there has been a “significant decline in the number of folks that are interested in going into public service.”

He said there were 12 applicants during this most recent application process, whereas 15 or 20 years ago, there might have been 30-40.

Flynn shared a theory for the decline in numbers.

“I think that there’s so much opportunity out there for so many different jobs that provide a great deal of flexibility with work schedules,” he said. “Public safety doesn’t provide that flexibility. The men and women here at the WBFD work a 24-hour schedule. They work some weekends; they work some holidays.”

People looking for a Monday-Friday, 9-5 job aren’t likely to have much interest in the schedule of a firefighter/paramedic.

“Yes, you get vacation time, but you’re still away from your family for a 24-hour shift when you work at the Fire Department, and that is not appealing to some,” Flynn said. “You’re also off for a great deal of time. We work a 24-hour shift on, 24 hours off, 24 hours on, and then 72 hours — or three days — off. It’s a six-day cycle that just keeps going and rotating.”

Tilli has been with the Police Department for approximately 25 years.

When he started, he said, there were hundreds of people applying for jobs, but, “now, we’re seeing much, much less than that applying for the job.”

One of the reasons for the diminished interest could be the social unrest that has occurred in the country this year.

“We’ve noticed more difficulty in the hiring process,” Tilli said. “Some of the social problems have caused issues.”

Despite what has occurred in other parts of the country, the Police Department has managed to avoid controversy when it comes to issues of social injustice.

“Due to good leadership here, we haven’t had any of those problems,” Tilli said. “We do a very good job training our officers. We have high expectations of their performance. While the number of applicants has dropped, I don’t think the quality of employee that we’re putting out has suffered at all.”

The hiring process can help the Police Department maintain its “high expectations.”

“I think that it’s super important to hire the right person,” Tilli said. “We go out of our way to do an extremely thorough background investigation. … We let our expectations (be) known, that the township residents of West Bloomfield expect a high level of service, and that’s a product that we’re (going to) deliver. All our officers are expected to be courteous, polite and responsive to the needs of the residents.”

One of the more popular sites in the area to train to be a police officer and firefighter/paramedic is at Oakland Community College’s Auburn Hills campus.

David Ceci is the dean of public services at OCC, as well as the director of law enforcement training.

He said the numbers have been “pretty good” when it comes to enrollment for firefighter/paramedic training and for the police academy.

“What I hear a lot of people saying is they see what’s going on in the news, how first responders, especially police, are being portrayed, and they (want to) come into the profession, show that’s not the reality,” Ceci said.

Ceci said there are 46 people currently enrolled in OCC’s police academy, with the possibility of having a waiting list for the next one.

“I had a lot (of) people saying to me, ‘Well, numbers are probably (going to) be down because nobody wants to be in the police today with everything that’s going on, how it looks, and what’s going on with defunding the police and everything,” Ceci said. “It’s been the opposite of what I’ve found. … It’s really inspiring people to get into the profession for the right reasons.”

The training and education it takes to become employable as a firefighter/paramedic can take more than a year and a half. A college degree isn’t required, but certifications are.

The length of time it takes can be a barrier for potential employees.

“From no medical training whatsoever to paramedic is about 18 months,” Flynn said. “That’s a long time to go and attend classes, and not being paid. … So that can be a challenge for someone who’s wanting to make a career change, to be balancing work with a very demanding curriculum.”

And then there’s the fire academy training.

“That’s five days a week, 11 weeks long,” Flynn said. “For many people, that’s very challenging to be able to get that certification. That’s one of the reasons why we have modified our hiring requirements. If we hire you as a paramedic and you don’t have the fire academy training yet, we will send you there for the 11 weeks and pay you to be there.”

An associate’s degree is required to become a police officer, with approximately 18 weeks of academy training.

Flynn suggested a “great pathway” to becoming a police officer or firefighter/paramedic.

“There’s dollars through the Frontline Workers Act, which is a program through the state of Michigan where frontline workers can get community college tuition paid for,” he said. “You can go to OCC, let’s say, there in Auburn Hills, enroll in the EMP paramedic program, and get all your tuition paid for, and transition into a job like this in West Bloomfield Township with a pension, great health care and all that kind (of) stuff. … There’s so many opportunities out there.”

For more information, visit Michigan.gov/frontliners.

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