SCHENECTADY — The City of Schenectady Fire Department is seeking more than a dozen qualified candidates to fill open positions as the agency prepares to offer a civil service exam in February.
The department is holding a civil service exam for the second consecutive year after last year’s test yielded seven new hires for the agency from the 36 candidates that took the exam.
Schenectady Fire Chief Donald Mareno said the department presently has 106 firefighters on staff, with 13 openings currently available.
“We’re down 13 people from retirements, so we have considerable openings,” Mareno said. “But all of the departments in this area are in the same boat. All of the bigger departments are in double digits [job openings]. We’re all looking for people.”
With a Dec. 27 deadline for prospective firefighters to sign up for the Feb. 11 exam, Mareno said that the agency is facing a difficult environment in the search to fill the company’s open slots.
“We have challenges like every other fire department and every other public safety agency and probably like many other careers out there,” the fire chief said. “We’re having problems getting people. Because of that, even though we had a test last year, we’re going to have another one this year. If we have a good list with a lot of good people on it, we could hold that list for four years. But we have the ability to accelerate that as well and have a test every year.”
The City of Saratoga Springs’ fire department is seeking to add 16 firefighters to its staff as the agency prepares to open a third fire station in March.
“We’re going to be challenged going into next year,” Saratoga Springs Fire Chief Joseph Dolan said. “We were recently awarded a SAFER [Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response] grant, which allows us to hire 16 new positions as we’re building our third station. So we are plagued with those challenges.”
The Saratoga Springs agency currently has 64 firefighters on staff, with Dolan noting that they are one person short presently, not factoring in the 16 firefighters who will be needed in the spring to staff the department’s new station.
Dolan said there are questions about whether the agency will be able to find 16 qualified candidates considering the competitive hiring market. The Saratoga Springs department also plans to offer a civil service exam in February.
“There are concerns all around,” he said. “I currently have a list that has 22 to 23 candidates on it and we’re going to try to get 16 off of that. That is a narrow margin. There are barriers that don’t always allow us to grab the people. Just because there’s 23 on the list doesn’t mean that they’re going to be candidates that we accept. There is a medical and psychological portion of the exam that some may pass and some may not.”
Dolan, who has been with the department for 24 years and has served as chief for the last three, said that recruiting candidates has become a more involved process over the decades.
“Twenty years ago, to take the fire exam, you filled a high school cafeteria with people that wanted to be a firefighter,” he said. “This last test, we only had 60 to 70 candidates and in years before, we’ve had even less. So we went from probably over 100 people that would take the test 20 years ago and at times now as low as 30 to 40 people in one particular sitting.”
Dolan noted that local agencies are jockeying for the same group of prospective firefighters in the Capital Region.
“We’re all vying for the same candidates,” he explained. “Some people that are on our list are also on Schenectady, Albany and Troy’s lists. So we’re all competing for the same pool of potential candidates. So that does make it challenging.”
The fee has been waived for the Schenectady civil service exam on Feb. 11. To get an interview with the department, candidates must be at least 19 years of age and have a NYS Emergency Medical Technician Paramedic certification.
“We have 13 openings, so if we could hire 13 people that meet the qualifications, that would be great,” Mareno said. “I don’t have hope for that. But we’re fully budgeted to fill those 13 positions.”
The fire chief said the department is urging any qualified candidates who are interested in serving to sign up for the exam.
“If you want to be a Schenectady firefighter, take the test,” Mareno said. “That’s the very first step you need to take.”