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October 8, 2010

New firefighters in Ohio town must have paramedic training

By Ed Runyan
The Vindicator

WARREN, Ohio — While the city prepares to hire 13 firefighters with money from a $5 million federal grant, Warren Civil Service Commission member Frank Hearns expressed hope that the city might hire its first female firefighter — or any minority, for that matter.

But Neil Heller, who became the department's first black assistant fire chief last year, said at Wednesday's Civil Service Commission meeting that he thinks it's unlikely any local black or Hispanic man or woman will take the test because the 13 positions require for the first time that the person hold a state Paramedic Certificate, which takes about two years of training.

Heller said he tried years ago to recruit minorities to apply for firefighter positions and had no luck. There is no recruiting program in place now, he said.

The department has never had a female firefighter, and the last minority hired into the department was in 1992, said Ken Nussle, Warren fire chief. The department has five black male firefighters among its 62 employees, he said.

The department will have 62 employees on Saturday, when the last of 10 laid-off firefighters return to work. The pay and benefits of the 10 returning firefighters also are being paid for with the two-year grant.

Heller said he thinks few minorities train to become firefighters because their "mentality" is "You're not going to hire me in the first place." He said he thinks the physical-agility test, which will be given at Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland this time instead of locally, prevents some women from getting hired.

Nussle said the department is requiring paramedic certification for the 13 new hires for two reasons. One is so that the department can return to providing emergency medical (ambulance) service to the city. Roughly 90 percent of fire departments across the country provide some level of emergency medical service, Nussle said.

Second, the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response grant the city received pays for 23 to 24 additional firefighters for two years. After that, the city must pay for them on its own or lay them off, Nussle said.

Having paramedics in the department will improve the odds of having a way to keep them after the two years, Nussle said. Providing EMS to the city won't cost citizens any additional money because ambulance runs won't be charged to the resident, only to their insurance or Medicare, he added.

Nussle said the department has "come a long way" in the 221/2 years since he became a firefighter because he was not required to have the 240 hours of firefighter training that was added in the early 1990s or paramedic certification.

Because of the requirements, people who haven't already started their training probably won't be eligible to get hired, Nussle said.

The commission said it will accept applications for the jobs from 10 a.m. to noon Dec. 4 and 11 at the Warren Fire Department, and the written test will be given Dec. 18, with registration starting around 9 a.m., at Warren G. Harding High School.

Applications, which will be available at Warren City Hall and the fire department, are not available yet, Nussle said.

Other requirements are a high school diploma or GED, valid driver's license, and applicants must be between age 18 and 35.

Republished with permission from