Hiring a challenge for Milford Fire Department: ‘We are turning every single rock’

MILFORD — Finding firefighters to join the city’s ranks is becoming as challenging as fighting the fires themselves.

Kevin McGrath, chair of the Milford Firefighter Commission, said that throughout the country, it is becoming more difficult to hire firefighters because many people, for various reasons, do not want to be in public service and be a firefighter or police officer. That, according to McGrath, is causing staffing problems.

Milford Fire Department has 112 firefighters, said Fire Chief Doug Edo.

“Right now, we just graduated a class of Connecticut firefighters,” said McGrath. “We have eight individuals in town now, and they will be able to sit in a fire truck or ambulance in about a week and a half.”

Even with the recent class of graduates, McGrath said the department still has around 18 vacancies he would like to fill.

“A lot of folks on the fire department have put in more overtime, and that has had an impact on their personal life and family,” he said. “But we have been on track to try and attract and hire more people.”

In the next two weeks, McGrath said the department has a physical test and swim test, and from there, officials will compile a list of candidates in an effort to get 8-10 recruits to the next academy class in early September or late August.

“We are in hopes that by this time next year, we will be at the full complement,” he said.

However, another barrier is there is a limited slots available at the Connecticut Fire Academy.

“So we may have 10 candidates ready to go, but the academy may only have five openings for us,” McGrath said.

To fully staff the department, McGrath said Milford is advertising city firefighting careers to a larger audience, including those who already are working in the field.

“We also have some folks that we would hire in a lateral move,” he said. “Meaning a firefighter in another part of the country or state would have an open door for a lateral aspect, which gives us a bigger scope and bigger net.

“We are turning every single rock there is in hopes of finding a quality candidate that can pass the test,” McGrath said.

Minority representation in the ranks is also an issue that departments are facing, McGrath said.

“In the testing we are doing now, we do have a good minority representation as well as women,” said McGrath.

One way the fire department is responding to the challenge is by using an app to advertise job openings nationwide.

“Through the app, we cast a large net and reached major cities and advertised in both the inner city, outer city and suburbs as well as churches and community groups,” he said. “We also advertised heavily via Facebook and the internet and stepped it up as far as getting the word out.”

Edo said the number of applicants had doubled compared to previous years.

“In the past, we’ve had 80 or 90 applicants, and this year we are up to 174 applicants,” he said. “When it comes to minority groups, we have had a decent number of applications.”

Currently, Edo said while the Milford Fire Department has some minority and women representation, as a whole, it primarily is a white fire department.

“I’m on a committee with the Chiefs Association, and they run a consortium test statewide with 15 fire departments,” he said. “All 15 departments pool together and test 400 to 500 applicants and select candidates from that group, and the number of minorities is very low in that pool as well.”

Even recruiting in diverse communities like Bridgeport is difficule, he said.

“It is a trend. You just don’t see many other groups applying to be firefighters,” he said.

One of the reasons why not only minority groups but anyone may be timid to apply to any fire station is because of the EMT requirement. But McGrath said the Milford Fire Department decided to forego the requirement for those who want to apply.

“We are allowing people to apply without an EMT license and giving them time to get their EMT license by the time they are on the job,” he said.

Another challenging aspect of hiring is the fact that firefighters in Milford have the challenge of being a firefighter along the longest coastline in Connecticut, as well as having Interstate 95 and the railroad in the city.

“It is a very challenging environment, but at the same time, it can be attractive for candidates who want to be firefighters in a challenging environment,” he said.