West Point Fire Department looking to hire amid national firefighter shortage

A firefighter shortage across the nation is impacting departments in our area.
Published: Jul. 25, 2023 at 10:44 PM EDT
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COLUMBUS, Ga. (WTVM) - A firefighter shortage across the nation is impacting departments in our area. One north Georgia department is dealing with getting people in the door while doing its best to accommodate its rapidly growing community.

“It takes someone with a special heart and desire to want to help your fellow man.”, said West Point Fire Chief Derick Staley. “It’s a dying breed, as sad as that is to say.”

Lately, that heart and desire are lacking when it comes to people signing up to be a firefighter. According to the non-profit Firefighters and EMS Fund departments like West Point, paying a starting salary ranging from 45 to 50 thousand dollars, are having a hard time getting people in the door because of low wages, high demands, and competition from other employers. According to the Chief, it’s a growing fire they’re having a hard time getting under control. Right now, he’s working on filling two openings, which will likely turn into sixteen with upcoming developments and projects scheduled for the area. Not to mention, their candidate pool is slim because you can’t just be a firefighter to work there.

“It could be anywhere from 1000 new rooftops to the city. So we’re looking at the possibility of having to add possibly new stations and doubling the size of our staff and question is where do we get those people?”, said Staley. “We’re both fire and EMS so meaning we have to have e-m-s certification and fire certification so that limits the number of people we can hire.”

In Smiths Station, Law and Public Safety teacher Michael Clay has a possible solution to the problem.

“Something that has started recently is they’ve started hiring kids at 18 years old to be firefighters. So that’s one of the main reasons I went to the school system and told them how important it was for me to start this program.”, said Clay.

Clay is going into year two of being the Law and Public Safety teacher at Smiths Station High School. With 20 years of experience as a fire fighter under his belt, he mostly teaches 10th through 12th graders about the ins and outs of being a firefighter. According to Clay those students can be certified volunteer firefighters by the time they graduate.

“It just makes them more prepared for what they’ll be doing once they get to a department.”, said Clay.

According to Chief Staley, right now they are looking at hiring people off the street and paying for their training, as a way to get more people in the door. He says one of the things that sets them apart is their defined retirement plan. The city has also moved the pay scale for all employees to help stay competitive. For more information or to apply click, here.