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Filling firefighters and paramedic positions an ongoing struggle for Reading

Recruiting enough firefighters and paramedics to fill openings in the city’s fire and rescue services is an ongoing problem, Reading’s fire chief said.

“As I mentioned many times before,” Chief James Stoudt said, “we are dangerously low compared to what we should have and what we had previously to Act 47.”

James Stoudt is Reading's new fire chief.
James Stoudt

The city exited Act 47 state oversight of finances for distressed cities in July 2022 after nearly 13 years that included wage and hiring freezes and layoffs.

Stoudt spoke at City Council’s meeting last Monday.

Two engine companies were taken out of service under Act 47, he noted, and their personnel were laid off.

Ideally, Stoudt said, he would like an additional 36 firefighters, enough to place one on each truck in the department’s fleet, but he will settle for fewer.

“For next year,” the chief said, “I would like to get 16 firefighters, which would put four firefighters back on each platoon to bring us back to the 22-firefighter minimum, which we had prior to Act 47.”

Regarding apparatus, he noted, the department is in good shape.

“The number of apparatus and number of stations is perfect for the size of our city,” Stoudt said.

Reopening or replacing the two engine companies closed during Act 47 is not necessary, he noted.

“It would be one engine sitting next to another, which makes no sense,” he said. “I would rather have the firefighters on the apparatus themselves.”

Getting those firefighters could be difficult, and Reading is not the only municipality struggling to fill openings.

“It’s just been that way nationwide, not only just with paramedics but with firefighters,” Stoudt said.

The last year or two, only about 65 candidates tested for the jobs, he noted, comparing that figure to the 400 or more when he tested in 1992.

“It’s just the numbers have gone down,” he said, “but we’re doing everything we can. Hopefully people will want to come on board.”

A proposed ordinance would increase the full complement of sworn personnel, including firefighters, paramedics and officers, in the department to 144 from 138.

The number does not include the department’s three civilian positions: an administrative officer, secretary and mechanic.

The ordinance would give the department the flexibility needed to recruit and hire additional personnel in a timely manner and as needed, Stoudt said.

“It has no effect right now,” Stoudt noted. “We’re not hiring anybody additional or anything like that. It’s just allowing us to have that cushion if it’s needed.”

Recruits are already on board to fill current openings and existing staff have been identified to replace two deputy chiefs and a firefighter scheduled to retire this year, he said.

One new paramedic started last week and eight are scheduled to begin in March, Stoudt said.

Even with the new hires, he said, the department doesn’t have enough certified paramedics to fill the open positions, however firefighter emergency medical technicians are able to fill open shifts.

All city firefighters are trained EMTs.

The city’s paramedics are health care professionals trained to give prehospital diagnosis and care for patients with serious injury or illness and provide advanced care and life support, including giving medications intravenously.

City EMTs also are trained to give prehospital diagnosis, care, basic life support, but are limited in support of serious injuries and illnesses. EMTs also can supply and monitor patients with oxygen.

Stoudt said the department plans to advertise for recruits in spring and hold written testing this summer. Agility testing and candidate interviews will follow in fall.

For more information on the city’s fire and rescue department’s job descriptions, salaries, benefits and candidate preparation, visit the city’s website at readingpa.gov/firefighter-emt-and-firefighter-paramedic-salary-and-benefits.


Source: Berkshire mont

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