GFFR accepting applications for multiple vacancies

Great Falls Fire Rescue is down about nine firefighters due to retirements, promotions and the inability to develop a hiring pool due to COVID-19.

But, GFFR, along with other fire departments that are members of the Montana Firefighting Testing Consortium, is working on testing to build a hiring pool.

COVID-19 is forcing them to change up the process a bit though this year, according to GFFR Chief Jeremy Jones.

The testing cycle typically starts with applying through the consortium, taking a written test and physical, which makes an applicant eligible to apply to any member department they’re interested in, Jones said.

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Typically, GFFR would then get the applications and depending on the number of applicants and vacancies would schedule interviews and screenings. The candidates would be ranked and the top contenders would go through a background check and physical and if successful, would be offered conditional employment to report to the recruit training academy for three months. Those who make it through the training academy are assigned to a station and platoon and start running calls as a probationary firefighter for nine months.

Jones said they’ve had openings for about a year since the Consortium tests were canceled last May due to COVID and pushed to the fall, but canceled again due to the pandemic. That meant there was no pool of candidates to hire for vacancies.

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The consortium includes Kalispell, Missoula, Helena, Butte, Bozeman, Billings, Havre, Miles City, Great Falls, Frenchtown, Belgrade/Central Valley and Lockwood.

The consortium members met this week, since they’re all under an interlocal agreement, to decide on a one-time pandemic waiver to conduct the test earlier.

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Jones said anyone interested in applying with GFFR should go to the city website to complete the online application (the position should be posted by end of day Jan. 15).

Applicants must have a Montana drivers license, high school diploma, and be an EMT-B prior to hire date. Call 406-791-8967 for more information.

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Jones said applicants will still have to register with the Consortium and pay the fee to take the test in May, but due to COVID, they’re conducting interviews and the top 10 candidates will be allowed to take the physical earlier than usual in the process.

Typically, GFFR would conduct interviews in July, he said.

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He’s planning to start a training academy May 1 for the new hires to get them onto platoons by July.

This pandemic driven process is to address the immediate vacancies, Jones said, and then go through the normal testing cycle to develop the hiring pool for any vacancies from April through March 2022.

“With all the oddities this year, we’re down quite a bit,” Jones said.

With retirements at the higher levels, it’s created vacancies throughout the department and next week they’ll start interviews to promote two captains to the battalion chief vacancies, and then look to promote to the captain level to fill those spots.

“There’s this domino effect all the way down,” he said. “It was just a bizarre year, it all stacked up.”

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The number of fires were up over the last year, Jones said, plus there were major wind events and other emergencies such as the recent chlorine leak, in addition to COVID-19 quarantines and isolation that have driven up the GFFR overtime budget this year.

Jones said there have been days that required them to call back entire shifts for multialarm fires or other significant incidents.

So far, Jones said he’s used about 87 percent of his overtime budget and anticipates being overspent on overtime by the time the budget year ends June 30.