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The city’s Civil Service Commission, in its first meeting of 2013, made made two changes Wednesday in eligibility requirements pertaining to new hires for the Paris Fire Department.
First, the commission took care of its own business. Russell Wiggins, an officer of Liberty National Bank, was welcomed as the newest member. He was appointed Monday night by the Paris City Council to a three-year term succeeding Sims Norment, whose term expired.
Melba Harris was selected as chairman, and Herbert Preston as vice chairman of the three-member commission.
Fire chief Larry Wright had requested the changes the commission made concerning fire department personnel.
In general, he said, 18 is not mature enough to be a firefighter.
“What we’re seeing is, these 18-year-olds just graduated from high school, they’re still living at home with momma and daddy, momma and daddy are putting them through fire service, and then they come apply with us,” the chief said.
“They’re 18 and a half or 19 and they’re just not ready for this kind of job. That’s not the case all across the board, but in a lot of the cases it is,” Wright said.
To get on with the fire department, an applicant has to take one of the tests administered throughout the year.
“If they’re a certified firefighter already, they’re bumped above the people who aren’t, even if the 18-year-old scores in the 70s and the others scored in the 80s and 90s,” Wright said. “I have no option.”
Wednesday’s change will give the fire department “the exact same guidelines that the police department uses,” Wrigh noted — a minimum of 21 yhears old, or as young as 18 if the applicant also has 60 or more hours of college credit.
There will remain a difference in maximum age to be hired — 36 for firefighters, 45 for police officers.
Asked if he currently has any firefighters under 21, Wright replied: “Yes — one person, and he will be 21 in March.”
That firefighter “will be grandfathered in. When we give a new exam, that’s when the 21-year-old rule will kick in,” the fie chief said.
The other rule, requiring that a member of the fire department live close enough to get to Paris in 30 minutes, isn’t as important as it once was, Wright sad, and he doesn’t know any fire departments that require that anymore.
“Firefighters work just every third day – 24 hours on and 48 hours off — so they can afford to drive a little farther to work,” Wright said.
There are firefighters who live in Paris but work on fire departments in the metroplex, and there are firefighters living in Sulphur Springs and Mount Pleasant and Denison who could be enticed to work in Paris, Wright said.
“They’re really interested in working for Paris, but would have to pack up their families, sell wherever they have their house, and move to Paris by end of probation. It just isn’t practical for them to apply,” he said.
At Rowlett, when he was fire chief there, in his attempt to recruit a female firefighter, Wright said, he targeted different firefighter schools in North Texas, hoping to find a good candidate.
“My training officer went over to the fire school in Kilgore and did a little spiel to the class that was fixing to graduate,” Wright said.
“He discovered a female in the class who had scored very high on the exam that they had, which meant she was probably capable of scoring high enough on our entrance exam for us to be able to hire. So we targeted her and started recruiting her and calling her directly, and ended up hiring her as a firefighter. So we got what we needed.”
Wright said without the 30-minute rule, “It will allow us to throw the net a little bit farther out, and try to attract some candidates in here that will be able to pass our exam and score high enough that we can consider them for hire.”
He added: “I can begin sending my training officer out to some of these different fire schools and focus on some of the more outstanding students.”
Police chief Bob Hundley said the rule change is OK with him. Doing away with the Civil Service rule would put the issue under the City of Paris personnel policy, which gives department heads the discretion on such decisions.
Hundley said it’s a little different for the police department because his patrol officers work 12-hour shifts and then must report back the next day. If they live an hour away, that would mean a 14-hour day “and I think that would be a little tiring.”
By CHARLES RICHARDS