Experienced firefighters in demand
Official asks BOC to change department's hiring process

CONYERS - Rockdale County officials want to attract more firefighters - and keep them here - even if it means offering monetary incentives.

The department could be short as many as 14 positions, considering its four current vacancies, six additional positions for the 2010 budget and its four staff members due to retire in 2010, Rockdale County Emergency Services Director John McNeil said to the Rockdale County Board of Commissioners at Monday's work session.

He asked commissioners for the go-ahead to modify the department's hiring procedures on a trial basis and advertise positions under the new proposed standards. The proposed policy would require applicants to come in with experience and certain skills, such as the emergency medical technician certification.

Rockdale County could save more than $47,000 per firefighter, according to McNeil, if new recruits are already trained.

"The challenge is to attract these applicants to Rockdale County," McNeil said.

He suggested implementing a $10,000 total incentive package: $2,000 bonus upon hiring, an additional $3,000 for six months of service and the remaining $5,000 at the two-year mark.

Commissioner Oz Nesbitt was in favor of the new hiring efforts, saying Rockdale County is in a unique position "as we try to compete with other counties ... in terms of compensation."

"A lot of times we're the last place that people in law enforcement and fire service industry look to for opportunity and employment," Nesbitt said.

Nesbitt thinks specifically targeting trained applicants is a good move, mentioning the new fire station going up in south Rockdale County.

"If we don't do something very quickly here in Rockdale County, in terms of fire service, we're going to find ourselves in a real critical situation with experienced people," Nesbitt said. "I know all the citizens want to know that when that truck pulls up, the right person is going to step off that truck."

Citing closures across the metropolitan area, Nesbitt admitted this year has been tough for fire departments and asked about the common obstacles in recruitment.

"However, I still believe there are some out there. There are some opportunities that we could tap into, if we have incentives in Rockdale County," McNeil said.

Nesbitt suggested following Atlanta's lead and organizing a job fair and having it advertised on TV.

"That's a big savings if you're able to find people who are already certified to come to Rockdale County," Nesbitt said of the $47,000 estimated savings.

McNeil said they will experiment with the new guidelines and report back to the commissioners with an update on the kind of response they receive.

"I hope you get overwhelmed, I really do," Nesbitt said.

McNeil stressed the ultimate goal is to have the trained staff to provide effective emergency response for Rockdale County residents.

Alena Parker can be reached at alena.parker@rockdalecitizen.com.