Natchez Fire Department seeks part-time firefighters
Published 12:01 am Friday, March 16, 2018
NATCHEZ — The Natchez Fire Department aims to fix its problem of being heavily understaffed by hiring part-time firefighters.
Fire Chief Aaron Wesley requested Tuesday during the city’s regular board of aldermen meeting that officials allow him to seek part-time employees, something not permitted until that point. The board granted his request unanimously.
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Wesley, who has battled heavy understaffing for some time now, said the department had to do something to at least somewhat alleviate the issue.
“We are working with sometimes 11 people per shift, which is supposed to be 16,” Wesley said.
After Natchez Mayor Darryl Grennell said he agreed with the method of using part-time employees until the empty spots are filled with full-time firefighters, he asked Ward 5 Alderman and Fire Committee Chair Ben Davis his thoughts on the matter.
Davis said he also agreed that the department should hire part-timers, adding that the move could save the city money since it would not need to cover insurance of those employees.
Ward 2 Alderman Billie Joe Frazier, who was participating from Washington, D.C., via telephone, said part-time employees were just about the only readily available solution to this problem at the moment.
Wesley said the fire department now has eight open slots to fill, and the department has had difficulty recruiting capable prospects to fill those positions. A few weeks ago when the department gave an entry-level test to those interested in becoming a firefighter, Wesley said, only 11 of the 17 applicants showed up to take the exam, and only two passed the test.
One of those two sought another opportunity in Texas, while the lone remaining prospect is still deciding his future, Wesley said.
Ward 6 Alderman Dan Dillard posed the question of whether the city had money in the budget set aside for these employees.
Wesley responded that the department had budgeted money for the eight empty positions, meaning funds anticipated to go toward salaries have sat idle.
The chief also noted, however, that some employees were being paid exorbitant amounts of overtime.
“The human resources (department) can (attest) that there are some people making just about more overtime than they are making regular time,” Wesley said.
As for the legality of taking on part-time firefights, Wesley said he had received approval for the idea from the Mississippi Fire Personnel’s Minimum Standards and Certification Board.
Aside from the overt concerns to public safety that accompany understaffing, the NFD’s low workforce could negatively affect the city’s fire rating, which could in turn cause insurance premiums to rise throughout Adams County.