D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services is set to hire dozens of new firefighters by March 2014, according to recruitment data and interviews conducted by the News4 I-Team.
The department, which is experiencing dozens of job vacancies, has been under pressure to boost its hiring and recruitment efforts. A representative of the union representing D.C. firefighters said staffing shortages, particularly among paramedics, risk slowing the department’s response to emergencies.
Thirty-four former D.C. high school students are completing training this year at the fire department’s southeast D.C. training academy. Thirty other older recruits, including military veterans, are also training, with completion expected by March. Once deployed, those trainees will work as full-time, salaried firefighters and fill the staffing gaps at firehouses citywide.
Altogether, the I-Team’s review of recruitment and training data shows 94 new firefighters set to start work in D.C. between May 2013 and March 2014 – almost one new firefighter for every opening, according to numbers provided by D.C. Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe.
He said there are 96 job openings in his department. A News4 I-Team review found 181 vacancies as of June. Representatives of DC Firefighters Association Local 36 reported 250 unfilled positions.
A shortage of paramedics, in particular, risks the safety of city residents, the union said.
When asked about the paramedic vacancies, Chief Ellerbe told News4, “About 125 paramedics applied for the job, and out of that 125, we were able to hire between nine and 10.”
“Our background check is extensive,” Ellerbe explained. “We look for a specific skillset. We want to hire nationally registered paramedics and we want to make sure they have some experience.”
The department’s Shepherd Parkway SE training facility includes classroom lessons, testing on emergency medical technician work and firefighter apparatus training.
The starting salary is $44,000-a-year, according to a city spokesman.
“We have our seats filled with employees every day - 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” Ellerbe said.
The department plans to announce Tuesday two new ambulances being deployed.