PORTLAND, Ore. — For the first time in its 139 year history, Portland Fire & Rescue will look to hire experienced firefighters to fill vacancies in the department, in order to try to quickly close a staffing gap.
Lt. Elizabeth Thompson with Portland Fire & Rescue said hiring freezes before 2011 and through 2014 and again in 2019 have kept staffing levels below 2010 levels.
PF&R had 692 full-time firefighters in 2010, according to city reports. Thompson said that number today is closer to 650.
In any given year, Portland Fire & Rescue hires between 20 and 50 entry-level firefighters, and then those new recruits go through a 12-month training academy before becoming full-time firefighters.
With low staffing levels and a large number of current firefighters eligible for retirement this year, Thompson said PF&R doesn't have time to wait the 12 months.
"If we were using that same model now, we would not have a workforce ready to supplement our vacancies until 2023, and we need to have those filled sooner." she said.
The pandemic has also slowed the hiring process down a bit by requiring smaller class sizes, but it has not created as big of a staffing issue for PF&R as it has for other job sectors.
Only two firefighters left their jobs due to a mandate by the city of Portland for employees to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
The city had to reimagine how the PF&R training academy would work with newly-hired lateral — meaning experienced — firefighters. They talked with departments around the nation to figure out best practices and identify any shortcomings that a shorter academy presented.
"The downstream effect of the hiring freeze and the anticipation of retirements, it highlighted an opportunity for Portland Fire & Rescue to reimagine our current training model," Thompson said. "It wasn't an easy task, we invest heavily in our training program to teach our newest firefighters beyond the basics of firefighting and emergency skills."
Thompson said the department hopes to hire between 16 and 20 lateral firefighters for its newest class. Interviews would take place in February and then hiring would begin in March. The academy would start by the end of April, and the new hires could start working by the end of the summer.
Starting pay for firefighters with at least 2 years of experience starts at $75,714.00. A link to the city's job posting can be found here.