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15 about to become St. Paul firefighters — at a time when they’re needed more than ever and recruiting is difficult – Twin Cities

In the years before Gloria Clausen received her job offer to join the St. Paul Fire Department, she finished college, trained to become even stronger, and worked as an emergency medical technician.

Another incoming firefighter, Chris Claypool, stayed busy as a chief master sergeant in the Air National Guard and chose to leave active military duty after 22 years to pursue his new career.

For the 15 people scheduled to graduate from the St. Paul Fire Department academy on Friday, it’s been a long wait to get here; they passed the written and physical tests in 2018 and have been on a hiring list since. Then, there was the 14-week academy, which is always strenuous, plus there were added challenges of training in-person during the coronavirus pandemic.

Their training chief says they weathered it all, and the recruits say they’re excited to become firefighters in Minnesota’s capital city. But it’s become increasingly difficult for fire departments in Minnesota and around the U.S. to find new employees.

WITH ABSENCES DUE TO COVID, NEW STAFF ESPECIALLY NEEDED

The addition of the newest St. Paul firefighters will help ease staffing strains, but the department will still be 22 firefighters below its authorized strength of 430. The department plans to do more hiring this year.

Plus, as Minnesota has seen a growing number of coronavirus infections driven by the highly contagious omicron variant, more St. Paul firefighters have been sickened.

In late December, the fire department averaged 15 to 20 firefighters out of work per day due to exposure or positive tests, which is more than double what the department experienced in summer months, said Deputy Fire Chief Roy Mokosso.

There were 17 people who couldn’t work due to testing positive for COVID-19 and an additional eight who were off as they awaited test results as of Thursday.

Seventy-seven percent of the fire department as a whole, including civilians, have been vaccinated. The updated guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about shortened quarantines has allowed the fire department to return almost half of the staff, who were previously out because of COVID precautions, back to full duty, Mokosso said.

APPLICANTS ALREADY DROPPING BEFORE PANDEMIC

The number of people applying to be St. Paul firefighters was already dropping before the pandemic. The last time the firefighter application process was open in St. Paul — in 2018 — there were 925 qualified applicants. That compares to 1,057 in 2014 and 2,361 in 2010, according to the department.

And there’s been a new wrinkle in hiring. Last year, St. Paul contacted 45 people who applied to become city firefighters in 2018 and passed the tests. Nearly half declined to come in for interviews, Mokosso said.

https://www.twincities.com/2022/01/09/st-paul-firefighters-needed-recruiting-difficult/ 15 about to become St. Paul firefighters — at a time when they’re needed more than ever and recruiting is difficult – Twin Cities

Yasmin Harisha

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