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Natchez Fire Department struggling to hire recruits

NATCHEZ — The Natchez Fire Department has a smoldering problem — though more recruits are desired, none who are eligible are to be found.

The difficulty in finding new recruits, Natchez Fire Chief Oliver Stewart said, is that potential recruits cannot pass the civil service test for firefighters.

At the last sitting for the firefighters exam 24 had signed up, only 15 showed up and none of those applicants scored well enough on the exam to be added to the fire department’s pool of potential hires. The written test is required because Natchez uses the civil service guidelines set out by the state.

“Nobody is passing,” Stewart said. “We are looking at alternatives, maybe coming up with something different.”

The fire department may ultimately have to come up with its own test, he said.

Each test is different, Stewart said. When seeking new recruits, the fire department asks the civil service commission to find a testing company, and each time the company provides the new tests.

Before, the tests were more general, looking at such subjects as basic math, English and spelling, Stewart said.

Now, he said, the tests are requiring recruits to know technical information about firefighting equipment, something only a trained firefighter would really know.

The study guides that come with the test pertain more with how to become a firefighter than how to be a firefighter, Stewart said.

“That is the sort of thing that we could train them if they were hired,” he said.

The fire chief said the department always has a need for eligible hires.

“We really need to keep an accurate eligibility list,” he said. “We have people who are eligible to retire, and we need to be up-to-date with our current eligibility list so that if somebody retires we can replace them, so that we can just pull from that list and hire someone.”