Schenectady County

Paramedics to take civil service exam

Getting qualified firefighters will be a breeze for Chief Robert Farstad this summer.

Getting qualified firefighters will be a breeze for Chief Robert Farstad this summer.

Nearly a dozen paramedics have signed up to take the firefighter civil service exam, and nine others reported that they would finish their paramedic certification before the end of the year.

That’s far better than the applicants for the last test, most of whom still haven’t gotten their paramedic training two years after passing the civil service exam. There is no one left on that list who has the qualifications to be hired by the Schenectady Fire Department.

The paramedic requirement has been considered so demanding that Farstad discussed dropping it in order to fill vacancies this year. But any new hires would then have to spend a year in paramedic training, costing the city thousands in overtime as other firefighters covered the trainees’ shifts. That was a trade-off that Farstad wanted to avoid when he proposed in 2006 that the department hire only people who already had paramedic certification.

Now it looks like his gamble paid off.

“This is actually looking very good,” said county Personnel Administrator Kathleen Heap as she read the applications for the firefighter exam. The deadline to submit those applications was Tuesday.

According to the applications, 11 candidates already have 60 college credits and paramedic certification, and another nine candidates wrote that they would complete both requirements before the end of the year.

“It is very good news for the city,” Heap said.

Farstad was delighted when he heard the news.

“It looks like we’re having some success,” he said. “That’s very good news. I’m glad to hear that.”

Although he clearly has many qualified residents taking the test, no one knows how many minorities have signed up. The application does not ask for that information, and the city’s affirmative action officer resigned early this year before beginning any recruitment for the test.

Minority employment in the department has been a touchy issue; in the department’s 108-year history, it has hired only three blacks. Right now, it employs one black firefighter; three women, including one Hispanic; one Asian; and 112 white men.

Farstad has said he wants to improve diversity at the department. But most of his recruitment efforts have been stymied.

In particular, the city school district has not supported his proposals for an emergency responders’ club at the middle schools and medical courses at the high school. He had hoped that would build excitement for a firefighting career among the racially diverse city school population.

He also wanted an easier way for students to get their paramedic certification. Their only option has been to drive 25 miles to Hudson Valley Community College, which may not be possible for poor students.

After years of negotiations, Schenectady County Community College will start offering paramedic classes via videoconferencing this fall. But the SCCC classes won’t start in time to train candidates for this summer’s exam.

Still, students could take the exam — which Farstad described as a basic test that most high school graduates could pass — in hopes of finishing their training before the next test. Exams are typically offered every two years, and anyone who does well on this summer’s test will stay on the list until the next exam is graded. Farstad wants a long list so he can continue to fill vacancies until the next exam.

In 2006, 40 people took the test. This time, 54 candidates signed up.

“That’s a good pool,” Farstad said.

He needs to hire seven firefighters to replace retirees this year, and expects several more retirements next year.

The exam will be given on June 14, and results will be announced near the end of August.

Categories: Schenectady County

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