2013-11-29 / In the Know

Fire department institutes new hiring process

By B. Michael Thurlow Special contributor

The fire department, like most other municipal departments, is constantly looking for grant opportunities to fund special projects or initiatives that aren’t possible through the normal budget process.

Many of these initiatives are coordinated through our active involvement with the regional Metro Fire Chief’s Coalition, a group comprised of the fire chiefs of the eight communities that surround the city of Portland.

We meet on a monthly basis to work on joint regional projects, policies, and initiatives so that we are all more efficient and cost effective in our day-to-day operations. We have been quite successful with regional grant requests due to the group’s diversity, demographics and the volume of emergency calls we collectively respond to.

Over the past year one of the grant projects we received more than $ 30,000 in funding for was to migrate our current physical ability testing process for full time candidates from an informal in-house program to the nationally recognized Candidates Physical Ability Test (CPAT).

The CPAT Wellness and Fitness Initiative is a national program that was developed in cooperation with the International Association of Firefighters, the largest firefighters union, and the International Association of Fire Chiefs.

The CPAT test is an entry-level evaluation of the physical abilities of a candidate to successfully perform the physically demanding functions of fire and EMS work. It is an excellent example of an effective labor/management program that has been vetted and survived legal challenges because it is fair, non-discriminatory and tied directly to specific job tasks.

The funding paid for a set of specialized equipment to administer the test, which consists of eight stations. That equipment includes a step machine that simulates climbing stairs, a tool carry station, a ceiling breach simulator, a forcible entry station, a confined space confidence course, a ladder station, a fire hose deployment station, and a rescue dummy drag to simulate the rescue of a full size and average weight victim.

In addition to that hardware the funding included sending some of our personnel to a specialized training session in the midwest, where they got their A.C.E Peer Fitness Trainer certification. This will allow them to work with all our employees on fitness and wellness throughout the year.

We are in the process of finishing up our current hiring process and as part of that we had 36 of our candidates take the CPAT test on this new equipment. Twenty-seven of them passed, yielding a 75 percent success rate, which is well above the national average for this challenging program.

I would like to recognize Capt. Nate Bennett and firefighter Brian Phipps, our two certified peer fitness coaches, for leading our department’s efforts on this new initiative. They were assisted by several of our other full time EMS personnel in conducting the tests.

Had we not worked with our mutual aid neighbors on this regional grant application, we would never have been able to fund this equipment or training.

Through the grant we now we have the ability to share both the equipment and expertise of the fitness trainers among all the member communities of the Metro Chief’s Coalition so we can all use this nationally vetted and sanctioned process as we hire new employees.

If you have any questions about this article or any fire department issue feel free to contact me at mthurl@ ci.scarborough.me.us or 730-4201. B. Michael Thurlow is fire chief for Scarborough.

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