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Flossmoor Fire Department looking for two new full-time captains

As its department faces increased calls and market pressures, the Flossmoor Fire Department is reorganizing its staffing structure. The department is eliminating three shift commander posts, currently held by contracted personnel, and replacing them with two full-time captain positions.
 
Flossmoor currently only has three full-time firefighter/paramedics — Chief Christopher Sewell, Assistant Chief Keith Damm and Captain Matthew Berk. The remainder of the crewconsists of on-call volunteers who earn a small stipend and contracted employees from Kurtz Ambulance, of New Lenox. These individuals staff the firehouse 24/7, responding to fires, auto crashes, medical emergencies, gas leaks and a multitude of other calls.
 
According to Sewell, the department can no longer tolerate the turnover it is experiencing with firefighters working on contract. Once they find a full-time job at another department, contractual department members leave the Flossmoor firehouse for more long-term prospects.
 
“These are firefighters who are looking for employment with full-time firefighter benefits,” Sewell said. “So they’re testing everywhere and they’re on (waiting) lists all over the place. We require them to have a number of firefighter certifications when they come here, so they’re very marketable and that’s why there’s so much turnover.”
 
New captains will bring consistency
Contract employees have been leaving the department after an average of only 18 months. The turnover is frustrating, and Sewell said it causes continuity problems. 
 
Shift commanders who are new to the department need time to learn local streets, addresses, establishments and events throughout Flossmoor. They are constantly undergoing training and training others. They have to learn the basics of running a shift, including firehouse duties and administrative tasks. They need time to observe the personalities and aptitudes of those on their crew in order to make reliable split-second assignments in the field. 
 
“There’s a grooming period and a lot of training that goes on to get them to where we’re comfortable with them making good decisions,” Sewell said. “We get them to that point and then we lose them, and then we start all over.”
 
The turnover has been especially tough for Berk, the department’s only current full-time captain and its training administrator. Sewell said Berk has been shouldering a “tremendous workload.” After the captains are hired, the new makeup of the department will ensure there is a full-time shift commander on each of the three shifts at the fire station. 
 
According to Sewell, the change in employment structure is something that’s been long-planned, as the need to hire full-timers gradually came into view. The department could afford to rely on contractors after the economy tanked in 2008, when local departments stopped hiring and even laid off firefighters. Now that the economy is in good shape, more departments are hiring.
 
Also, Sewell said a large group of firefighters in the Southwest Suburbs is getting ready to retire, after starting their careers when those towns were burgeoning 30-something years ago. This also has caused greater demand for qualified, experienced firefighters.
 
“And the City of Chicago has been doing massive hiring in the past two to three years,” Sewell added.
 
Helping more residents than ever before
Flossmoor’s firefighters have been seeing a steady increase in the demand for their services. Over the past few years, Sewell said call volume has risen by about 5 percent annually. The department responded to just fewer than 1,500 calls in 2017.
 
Sewell isn’t certain about the reasons for the increase in calls, but he said the department responds to more road crashes than ever before, due to motorists texting while driving. Firefighter/paramedics also respond to a larger number of medical calls, especially “trips-and-falls” among Flossmoor’s older population.
 
“When I look at the types of calls we run today, there’s no doubt we have a mental health issue nationwide, because we run a lot of mental health related calls,” he said. “The attitude in society is different today. When we were kids, if you broke your leg, your parents put you into the car and took you to the hospital. Today, if something’s wrong, it’s instinct to pick up the phone and call 911.”
 
Flossmoor Fire Department battles about a half dozen serious fires each year, Sewell said, and offers automatic aid to neighboring Homewood, Hazel Crest, Country Club Hills and Chicago Heights. 
 
The Flossmoor Village Board, at its March 5 meeting, gave Sewell the green light to begin searching for the two new employees, and the hiring process is currently underway. Candidates must pass through a series of tests and assessments before being placed on an eligibility list. Sewell will work with the village board to select the final two firefighters to hire.
 

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