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Wheeling Fire Department To Fill Additional Positions

Photos by Scott McCloskey Probationary firefighters go through a number of fire suppression drills at the Wheeling Fire Department’s training tower facility on Wheeling Island this past week.

WHEELING — As the Wheeling Fire Department continues to exhaust its list of qualified applicants looking for a career as a firefighter, department officials are hoping to fill more positions going into the new year for a career that requires the type of person who is willing go above and beyond for the safety of others.

Wheeling Fire Chief Larry Helms said despite receiving a federal grant that will assist the department with hiring six more firefighters, the department continues to have a need to fill additional positions due to a higher number of retirements and resignations within the department this year. He said the deadline for signing up to take the required written exam is Jan. 2. The exam will be given at 6 p.m., Jan. 13.

The fire department currently employs 93 people, including support staff. Helms said there is a minimum staffing of 22 firefighters on each of the three shifts, and the hirings will increase that number to 24 per shift. There are typically 27 firefighters assigned to a shift. He said a federal grant will allow them to hire six additional firefighters because of the growing need.

Senators Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., announced in October the Wheeling Fire Department was receiving a $723,797 grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to assist the department with additional manpower. Helms said with the ongoing I-70 Bridges Project over the next couple of years, the department is anticipating a greater need for manpower.

Helms said despite recently hiring eight applicants who are currently going through the probationary process, they will have seven additional openings going into the new year. In addition, Helms said they expect to experience a larger than normal number of retirees over the next couple of years.

“We are going to have seven open slots and we don’t have enough people left on the list to cover it. So we are going to give another test,” Helms explained. “And it’s time sensitive because we have to have the list available before March so we can hire those folks under the grant,” he added. In addition to passing a written exam, applicants must pass a physical agility test. State code requires that applicants must also be at least 18 years of age, and not older than 35 because of the physical demands.

“What we do is very physically demanding,” Helms commented.

He said the position of firefighter not only requires the type of person who enjoys that type of career, but obviously is willing to put themselves second to those they are serving.

Helms said the funds from the federal grant will be used for increasing their staff. He said the grant assistance hits at the perfect time because the department is going to be dealing with road construction issues over the next couple of years and it will help will staffing different areas of the city.

“What it will allow us to do is actually move our Squad 3 to different locations if needed because of traffic conditions,” he explained.

As the eight newly-hired probationary firefighters were going through various training exercises at the department’s training facility on Wheeling Island this past week, Assistant Chief Jim Blazier said this phase of the training process is as close to the real thing as possible. He said this week they were going through a variety of fire suppression and hose advancement techniques.

Blazier said in addition to classroom training, the probationary firefighters will go through a lot of hand-on training, some of which is held at the department’s training tower. He said in the beginning of the program they train with artificial smoke, before using real smoke at the conclusion of the training.

“We’ve trained them how to use their (self-contained breathing apparatus) that are going to protect them, and now we have them in there (training tower) with multiple instructors so that we are assured that everything goes smoothly,” Blazier commented. “We have plenty of safety measures in place … So this is designed before they get into the real thing.”

Interested applicants can fill out an application at the City of Wheeling’s Human Resource Department or just go online to the city’s website www.wheelingwv.gov and go to the firefighter online application under human resources.

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