A requirement in the Carthage City Code that firefighters who work for the city live within the Carthage Fire Protection District boundaries is causing problems when it comes to recruiting qualified people to serve as firefighters.
A requirement in the Carthage City Code that firefighters who work for the city live within the Carthage Fire Protection District boundaries is causing problems when it comes to recruiting qualified people.
Carthage Fire Chief Roger Williams is asking the Carthage City Council to change the residency requirement and allow people who live within 15 miles of the fire station at Chestnut and Garrison to work for the Carthage Fire Department.
“Right now I have some viable candidates who live in other communities not that far away from us, one was in the station today with an application and his biggest thing was he still wants to live where he's at,” Williams told the Council's Public Safety Committee on Monday. “There've been a lot of different issues there and one that seems to come up quite often when I do call people who are eligible is they don't want to move. They either live quite a ways away or they live not too far away but they're established where they're at and their kids are in school, wife has a job, they own a home.”
A bigger pool
The fire department residency requirement was established in 2010 when the fire chief at the time said two firefighters were living in Joplin and one was living in Kansas City. The one living in Kansas City resigned and the other two moved to Carthage.
In recent weeks, Williams has said the fire department had five open positions in the department, which is equal to one of his three shifts.
Williams said he recently hired two firefighters and was talking to a third firefighter who was interested in working in Carthage.
Williams said he needs to find three more firefighters, after he fills the three open positions, to staff the future Station 2, which will be finished later this spring.
The proposed 15 mile radius includes most of Carl Junction, all but the far southwest corner of Joplin, Diamond to the south, LaRussell and Avilla to the east and up to the Highway 126 interchange north of Jasper to the north.
On Monday, Williams said he wants to draw from the pool of trained people in the volunteer fire departments around the city.
“Our fire district bumps up against a lot of other volunteer departments like Tri-cities, which is Alba, Purcell, Neck City, Oronogo, Carterville, Duenweg, Sarcoxie, Avilla, all those are right on the edges of our borders,” Williams said. “All of those are established volunteer departments that have folks who volunteer and, as time goes by, many of those people go to school, they get Fire 1 and 2, some may be EMTs, some are first responders, so there are folks out there that do have some training. There are individuals who live in Joplin, people who live in Webb City, there are people who live in Oronogo who have Fire 1 and 2, but as I told you, they just don't want to leave their hometown, leave their established residence.”
Williams said firefighters are on call, even when they're not working their regular shift. If a structure fire breaks out in the city or the district that requires all on-duty crew to respond, off-duty firefighters are called in to help or staff the station.
“They need to be close enough that we know they're going to be here in a reasonable amount of time,” Williams said. “What's a reasonable amount of time? Hopefully I've got enough of a mixture of guys that there are some guys that are going to be here within 10 minutes, but I may have some when we go to this that may take 25 or 30 minutes depending on exactly where they end up.”
With almost all of Jasper County within the 15-mile radius, Council Member Jason Shelfer asked Williams if he had considered requiring his employees live in Jasper County instead of inside that circle.
“I know good folks who live in Diamond,” Williams said. “I had thought about just making it Jasper County, and honestly the areas that we're talking about that are left over are getting people far enough away that if they're driving in the middle of the night responding to the fire station because a big fire somewhere, it's just that much farther out.”