ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – AFD leaders say they’re seeing fewer applicants to the department. It’s not a crisis, but officials say they don’t want to take any chances. It’s why they’re taking a proactive approach to boost numbers. The AFD fire chief says higher EMT standards has meant fewer eligible applicants. Factor in a change in retirement policy and the department says they must make changes if they want enough firefighters on staff.
“We’re trying to do our best to stay ahead of this,” says AFD Fire Chief David Downey.
Downey’s referring to fewer recruits to the department. He admits firefighters see overtime every day, but says they’re not scrambling for personnel yet.
“If we don’t continue to hire large cadet classes like we’re going to start this summer, we could fall behind,” says Downey.
There are 40 people in the department’s upcoming recruitment class. It’s a step in the right direction, but it may not be enough.
“We’ve been noticing there are less and less EMT basics eligible every year,” Downey says.
He says the department has two qualifications for its applicants – they have to be 21 years old and have a basic EMT license. Yet, the standards for certification are going up and the number of people graduating is going down.
“For example, you have to do a ride-along now so, all the students that were kind of saturated in the classes, they all can’t get a ride-along with either the ambulance company or any of the other fire departments that have paramedic units, so there’s not as many spots in the classes,” Downey explains.
Certification isn’t the only thing some say is affecting AFD’s numbers. Albuquerque Area Firefighters Union President Diego Arencon says entry level positions make a little more than $9 bucks an hour at the academy and less than $9.50 during their first year on probation.
Overall, there’s been a lot of controversy over AFD’s pay.
In February, Mayor R.J. Berry signed a one-year contract with the firefighters union, restoring the pay that was cut when Berry took office and trimmed the budget.
Plus, Downey says a change in retirement pay means AFD could lose more of the experienced firefighters they already have. Just last year, more than 40 people retired.
“We’re planning on an increase in retirements in 2016,” says Downey.
That’s when the new policy goes into effect.
It’s why he wants to increase the number of applicants by recruiting nationwide.
“If somebody were to have a national registry EMT basic license, we could bring them in and hire them and then train them to the New Mexico standards, so we’re looking to increase our applicant pool through some other means. That, of course, also allows us to recruit veterans that have been trained through their military service,” explains Downey.
Downey plans to start accepting out-of-state licenses in 2015.
“If we can hire people that have some training, we’d like to do that, rather than have to start from scratch with them employees and put all that time and expense in training them. If we can recruit trained personnel and maybe shorten the training requirement here and get them on the streets faster, that’s going to help,” says Downey.
Arencon says the union looks forward to working with Downey on the new initiatives and hopes they can get pay up to $12 dollars an hour to help attract more recruits.