David Jones, chief of the Norridgewock Fire Department, on Feb.26. Residents approved hiring two full-time firefighters during Town Meeting. The town is seeking applicants for the position. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

NORRIDGEWOCK — The town is seeking applicants to fill two full-time firefighter positions, which were approved by voters in early March.

The town voted via secret ballot at the March 2 town meeting to add two full-time firefighter positions for the department serving the towns of Norridgewock and Mercer. The department currently responds to about 200 calls a year and has 18 on-call volunteers. They are paid an hourly rate, though they do not have a set schedule.

The article on the town warrant called for voters to authorize two full-time Norridgewock Fire Department firefighters to begin no sooner than July 1 and for $50,000 to cover the cost of the new positions through the six months remaining in 2020. Town Manager Richard LaBelle said that applications went live on the town’s website July 6.

Discussions on hiring full-time firefighters came up at the 2019 town meeting, where a straw poll was taken and results indicated that residents wanted the positions. Fire Capt. Todd Pineo previously said that the department needs daytime coverage mostly as many of their volunteers can work only evenings and weekends. Adding full-time positions also takes the burden off the on-call volunteers.

With the positions approved, the request from the fire department in fiscal year 2021 is expected to be a minimum of $100,000, but more likely in the range of $125,000 to 130,000 per year to adequately fund the positions, according to LaBelle.

LaBelle said that as of Monday afternoon, the town has received two applications. Though there is no date when applications close, LaBelle added that the town will start reviewing the applications during the first week of August.

“Obviously we would like to have the most qualified candidates we could possibly solicit,” LaBelle said. “We, as a community, are committed to invest in the right candidate in terms of expanding their knowledge and training if they don’t come with the ideal set of skills.”

LaBelle said that the hiring committee, comprised of himself, Fire Chief David Jones and two others, would ideally like to see a candidate with Maine Firefighter I and II certification, EMT and rescue service training. A full list of job requirements is included in the job description  on the town’s website.

“We are not going to close the application window,” LaBelle said. “We will keep taking until we find the right candidate. We would like to see (more applicants). We want to make sure people out there are aware of the position and have the ability to submit their application.”

Once applications are reviewed, LaBelle said that a multi-tier selection process will take place internally, where candidates will have to pass a fire knowledge exam, physical agility obstacle course and interview.

Applicants also must possess a high school diploma or equivalent, possess a valid Class C Maine Driver’s license with a safe record, pass a drug test and background check.

“That adds time to the process. (It would take) about six weeks with an aggressive time frame to fully on-board them.”

With the pandemic, LaBelle said that it has been difficult to find candidates.

“We’ve had a lot of discussions here as to what is causing or not causing folks to be interested. Maybe it’s a lack of knowing, maybe it’s the nature of the position,” LaBelle said. “With the pandemic, we know the hiring and selection process is going to be different. … We’re not being stifled by the unemployment subsidy of $600 a week. Looking at it, our timing may have been off by a week or so.”

LaBelle said that with the projected Aug. 1 date to begin reviewing applications, he predicts a potential influx in applicants as the CARES Act may expire at the end of the month, making the process more competitive.

“When mid-to-high 60% of people on unemployment earn more than their traditional jobs, it makes it difficult.”

He added that this could also be an opportunity as many will not be able to go back to the jobs that they had before the pandemic.

“A unique thing about that, in reading about the pandemic, is that a large number of people … are predicted not to go back into work that they did before the pandemic, so we will likely see a lot of career changes, and that might present an opportunity for us as well. Somebody may want to try something new,” LaBelle said.

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