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City police, fire departments struggle to gain recruits

by David Showers | April 24, 2022 at 4:05 a.m.
Hot Springs Police Chief Chris Chapmond swears in 11 new officers during a badge pinning ceremony Friday, Jan. 7, at Horner Hall in the Hot Springs Convention Center. - File photo by The Sentinel-Record

Four applications have been submitted for the Hot Springs Police Department's May 21 testing session, about a tenth of the hiring pool Police Chief Chris Chapmond said is needed to fill 10 open positions.

He told the Civil Service Commission Wednesday that finding 10 people who can withstand the rigor of the hiring process requires 40 to 50 applicants. Last fall's recruiting drive netted 10, two of which advanced to the interview round with command staff.

Applications for the May 21 testing session are available at City Hall. May 13 is the submission deadline. The starting salary is $43,196, with the city offering a $5,000 signing bonus for certified officers. Applicants must be 20 or older and able to pass a comprehensive background check.

Applicants have also been at a premium for the fire department.

"We're trying everything we can to get applicants in here," Fire Marshal Tom Braughton told the commission. "I don't know if there's a stigma about being a first responder, but people aren't wanting to apply."

Commission Chairman Sam Stathakis Jr. said public safety careers have lost cachet.

"Everybody was proud to be a fireman or policeman, but somehow that attitude changed," he said. "Hopefully we can change the attitude of everybody and people will want to do it like they used to want to do it."

Forty-one people applied for the testing session the fire department held earlier this month. Eight of the 30 who showed failed the running portion of the physical fitness test. Twelve of the remaining 22 passed the written exam.

"Going from 41 to 12 is a huge drop," Braughton told the commission. "Twelve seems to be pretty low to where we've been in the past."

Braughton said the running requirement weeds out the largest number of applicants. They have 13 minutes to run 1.5 miles.

"The ones who failed the run, the first thing we asked them was to please come back," he said. "We want you to come back. If you need any help, let us know."

If the distance is completed in the allotted time, applicants do 35 situps and 25 pushups. Carrying 150 pounds 100 feet, negotiating a 3.5-inch beam while carrying a 3-inch, 20-foot hose and climbing a 60-foot aerial ladder oriented at a 60-degree angle are also required.

Braughton said an upcoming retirement will leave one opening in the 78 uniformed positions provided for in the 2022 fire fund budget. More departures may be coming, he said.

The city's human resources department said $39,440 is the starting salary for a firefighter. Applicants must be between 20 and 35 years old.

Aerial truck

Braughton said the 105-foot aerial ladder truck the department ordered last year is expected to arrive by August or September.

The Hot Springs Board of Directors approved a $2 million contract for a Pierce Manufacturing Inc. tiller aerial ladder truck and loose equipment last May. Its arrival will relegate the department's 1995 aerial truck to a reserve role.

"It is going to be a very nice piece of equipment," Braughton told the commission. "It will be a shining star of the department. It has technology that will help us out at a fire scene."

Specifications have been issued for the pumper truck the board authorized in the 2022 fire fund budget. The $1.98 million in short-term financing the board approved for 2022 capital purchases will pay the $800,000 estimated cost of the new truck.

Braughton said it should arrive next year.

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