Miss. fire chief pleads for help in firefighter recruitment
Natchez Fire Chief Aaron Wesley pleaded for the city and community members to help support his recruiting efforts
By David Hamilton
NATCHEZ, Miss. — Natchez Fire Department Chief Aaron Wesley pleaded Tuesday for both city aldermen and the whole community to help recruit firefighters.
Wesley said his department has seven openings, and NFD is still accepting applications leading up to a written entry-level exam on Feb. 27. As of Wednesday afternoon, Wesley said 14 eligible candidates had applied, though he expected no more than 10 to take the test.
"It is a big problem trying to recruit," Wesley said before the Natchez Board of Aldermen at Tuesday's regular meeting. "I've put flyers on church doors myself, I go out in the neighborhoods handing out flyers, applications."
Wesley then asked the board of aldermen to support his recruiting efforts as the testing date looms.
"I need you all's help definitely to put in," Wesley said.
Wesley commended Ward 5 Alderman Benjamin Davis, who was not present at the meeting, for his constant search for solid prospects.
"Everywhere you just about see him, he's recruiting," Wesley said. "He was in Ruby Tuesday (the other day), and he was recruiting."
Local schools, Wesley said, serve as an example of big players in the community that could aid recruitment efforts. Job fairs and interventions from school counselors could be mutually beneficial for both the city and students that are looking for careers out of high school.
"I just really think the schools need to get involved. When they see that not everyone is going to college and not every is going to the military, I think the schools need to be saying something ... to encourage students," Wesley said.
Wesley said he and Ward 1 Alderwoman Joyce Arceneaux-Mathis had been discussing ways to invoke some sort of school-based recruitment program.
The department has only hired only three people in a year's time, and none of them remain at the department to date. Wesley said one went to Vidalia to seek higher pay, and another returned to his former job as a repairman.
"One guy ... he decided to just go back (to the shop) and work on bicycles," Wesley said.
Wesley also said only one trainee is scheduled to graduate from the academy a week from today.
Despite the Natchez Board of Aldermen's vote to give a 7-percent raise to both firefighters and police officers last year, entry-level Natchez firefighters still make less than $9 starting out.
Mississippi State Fire Academy Executive Director Reggie Bell said that relatively low wages -- his No. 1 reason for recruitment troubles -- are compounded in rural areas of the state such as Natchez that have a small pool of prospective firefighters from which to draw.
Bell also agreed with Wesley that attaining firefighters hinges heavily on community participation.
"I agree with that -- it is a community effort," Bell said. "The citizens of the City of Natchez need to get behind these firefighters, because they're ... there to come to you in your time of need.
Copyright 2018 Natchez Democrat