The Menlo Park Fire District has hired 20 new firefighters and firefighter/paramedics over the last year, the largest, single most aggressive hiring effort since at least the 1980’s, if ever. The 20 new personnel represent almost a quarter of the 90 safety, or line staff personnel, who respond to 9,000 emergencies per year and live at seven fire stations.
Like many public safety agencies, the Fire District ran lean during the worldwide recession, not quickly replacing employees, using overtime, or postponing growth based upon a variety of reasons and often reacting to retirements and a growing the number of firefighters who were out on injury leave.
“We’ve been working hard to catch up to where we needed to be on staffing by hiring the best qualified individuals we could find for this organization,” said Chief Harold Schapelhouman. “The Fire Board has allowed us to adopt a very aggressive plan that has literally impacted every firefighter in the organization.
Hiring and training is a tremendous investment of the agency’s time. Each candidate who is pre-screened for the proper qualifications takes a written exam and then those who score high enough move on to interview panels consisting of peers and then for some, the Fire Chief’s interview. Based on ranking, candidates move on to background investigations, polygraph, psychological and medical evaluations.
Those that fully qualify are then moved on to the County’s joint, multi-agency 14-week fire academy. If they graduate from the fire academy, they are placed on probation for one year for more hands-on training with written exams given every three months.
“If you can pass probation here, you’ve really accomplished something and proven yourself to be at least good enough to have earned a permanent spot in the organization” said the Chief. “Few get here to begin with, and some don’t pass probation, despite all of the time, effort and energy we expend on those select few.”
Starting pay for a Menlo Park firefighter is $14,481.62 per month with benefits and $15,562.28 per month with benefits for firefighter/paramedics. The Fire Districts turnover rate is less than 1%, and most firefighters stay for at least 30 years of service.
Menlo Fire has a family feel because the firefighters need to trust each other. “It’s more than a job, it’s a unique life style and an honorable career dedicated to the actual service of others,” said the Chief.
Photo by Peter Mootz-Action Photography courtesy of Menlo Fire; firefighters in brown turnouts are currently in the County Fire Academy; firefighters in black turnouts are on their one year probation