Hamilton firefighter jobs with higher pay now easier to get

Ed Avery is retiring from Hamilton Fire Department after 28 years of service. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

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Ed Avery is retiring from Hamilton Fire Department after 28 years of service. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

Those without training may take city’s entrance examination

When Ed Avery and another colleague in the Hamilton Fire Department retire the next three months, there will be no more African-Americans on the city’s fire force of about 100, unless some join soon. That has bothered Avery in recent years.

Avery is glad city officials and the firefighters’ labor union changed its contract to remove a barrier for people who might like to join Hamilton’s force, but don’t have the training.

In a move that should help diversity, people without firefighter or emergency medical service training can take the city’s entrance examination, which tests general knowledge — not firefighting information — and be hired with starting pay above $54,000. The city then will pay to train them.

Somebody who is ”18 years old, right out of high school and wants to be a Hamilton firefighter can start at $54,556,” Fire Chief Mark Mercer about the new policy, which changed Jan. 5. “And I would love to hire as many of our local people that have a good feeling for the city of Hamilton and want to be good public servants.”

Even people graduating from college with bachelor’s degrees looking to work for businesses, “they’re going to struggle to get that initially,” Mercer said.

“It’s a great career,” Mercer said. “It’s a great place to work. The city is a stable employer. It’s a great time to be here, and the future is nothing but bright.”

A trained paramedic can join the department earning $60,427, Mercer said.

Avery, 57, has been with the department almost 28 years, and has been an apparatus driver for 20, most recently driving the Engine 26 pumper in Lindenwald.

He’ll retire March 11, with the other firefighter expected to retire in May.

“I’ll be real honest with you, I’m not real happy with it,” Avery said about leaving a department that may have no one who is black on it. “I do understand how it came to be.”

About a decade ago, “When we we started requiring people to already have their certifications to take our test or be hired, I didn’t realize at that time it was going to lead to what it has.”

When Hamilton started requiring certifications to join about a decade ago, like other governments nationwide, that made it harder for less wealthy people, or those without family members who were firefighters, to get the necessary training.

Area fire departments have a mixed bag of policies. In Middletown, certifications for both firefighting and EMS are required to be hired.

“It’s an institutional barrier, not institutional racism,” Avery said. “It wasn’t intentional, I don’t believe. It was a means of saving money. The recession hit and we were talking about blackouts, layoffs, all that kind of stuff, and as a way of saving money, that was a way the fire department thought would be best to save money, was to have everybody have education certifications prior to taking the test and getting hired.”

“It limited a lot of African-American — or other people of diverse backgrounds — from taking the test,” Avery said. “Because not a lot of us actually got into firefighting, especially if you didn’t have family as firefighters. This wasn’t something you grew up being steered toward.”

“Once I recognized it, I became concerned, and I started voicing my opinion about it,” Avery said. He said Mercer asked what could be done.

Avery’s favorite part of the job is driving the truck because, best because, “I’m the most important guy on the job, to me. Without me, they can’t get there. Without me, they can’t have water to put the fire out.”

He also enjoys talking with youngsters and teens about the job: “I’ll ask them, ‘Have you ever considered being a firefighter?’” he said.

“Diversity-wise, I’m all over the place. I’ll ask everyone: men, women, Asian, African-American, Caucasian. It doesn’t matter, because I see the opportunity coming to anyone to get into it now who may not have the opportunity to go to college or something like that.”

“I’m not telling you they’re going to give you the job. I always tell them, ‘You’ve got to take the test, and you get past that, you’ve got more tests, and more tests,’” he said. “If they don’t have a path already in mind, I say, ‘Consider it.’”

Tony Harris, president of International Association of Firefighters Local 20, works the same shifts with Avery and enjoys seeing minority children’s eyes brighten when they see someone who looks like them show up.

“Kids we see in these communities, they look at me and they may not be able to relate to what I do,” said Harris, who is white. “But they look at Ed, and they’re like, ‘Man, that guy can drive a firetruck. Maybe I can do that.’ Or one they see a female, they say, ‘A girl’s doing that job. I can do that.’”

“It’s been a blessing. I really enjoyed it,” Avery said about the career. “I’m glad it’s been part of my life. I’ve met a lot of good people.”

Until Jan. 5, “I could only hire a firefighter/paramedic, and it was due to the cost of getting people trained and due to how we structured that,” Mercer said.

By taking nationally administered tests, interested applicants “can be living in Colorado, decide they want to be a Hamilton firefighter, sign up and send us their scores, and we can get them in the system,” Mercer said.

“You’re never going to get rich being a fireman, but you can have I feel like a good, middle-class life as a fireman,” Harris said.

Hamilton soon will hire firefighters

Here is how someone may sign up to learn more about Hamilton’s firefighting jobs when they are posted, and other jobs with the city:

  • Go to hamilton-oh.gov, the city’s website.
  • Scroll of the way down the page and find an area called “Employment Opportunities.” In that area, click the “See Current Job Postings” box.
  • On the extreme top left of the screen, click on the word “Menu,” and then the word “Job Categories.”
  • Hamilton Human Resources Director Jeanne Pope next suggests clicking on the words “Select All” near the upper right of the next screen that appears, to choose all job possibilities, and then clicking on the green box that says “Subscribe.”
  • Filling out the box with your name and email address will alert you to job opportunities when they become available.
  • Once a firefighter position becomes available, subscribers will receive instructions about what to do next.
  • People with questions can call Brittany Chapman at (513) 785-7077.

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