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Fire Service may have to hire from abroad

Firefighters may have to be recruited from abroad for the first time due to disastrous attempts to find suitable local candidates.

The last recruitment drive by Bermuda Fire Service attracted 83 applicants — but just three passed the entrance tests and only two accepted the job.

The rest were rejected for a variety of reasons, including failure to pass academic, psychological and drug tests and poor physical health and fitness.

Chief fire officer Vincent Hollinsid told The Royal Gazette yesterday he hoped a new appeal for recruits would find 28 Bermudians needed to bring the Service up to full strength.

But he admitted: "We are finding that people are not even able to pass the basic academic tests that we require.

"What saddens me is the fact that this is the first time that the Fire Service has ever had to face this. In the past we were turning people away."

He added: "If I'm successful in getting 25 Bermudians, I will not recruit those other three from overseas.

"If I don't get anywhere near the required number, then I'm forced to go overseas. It's absolutely a first. We have never had to go overseas before.

"We have gone overseas to recruit a specialist mechanic for dealing with fire engines but we have never gone to recruit firefighters. We do our best to get Bermudians."

Mr. Hollinsid revealed that the Fire Service is in talks with the Department of Education and the Adult Education Centre to ensure its academic entrance test is appropriate.

The exam should be a grade 12 level test, equivalent to senior four (S4) in Bermuda's public school system, and suitable for a 17-year-old high school graduate.

"We have to maintain that level," said Mr. Hollinsid. "We need to have people with good academic abilities who are prepared to improve their academic credentials."

He said the majority of applicants were at a grade eight or middle three (M3) level i.e. that of a 13-year-old student.

The chief fire officer said it was not for him to criticise the Island's education system, but added: "What are we turning out? I have some concerns about that with respect to kids coming out of school who are not even able to pass the entrance test.

"That's a sad situation for us as employers to be in. I have to run an efficient Fire Service and I must have the numbers in place."

Mr. Hollinsid said the academic entrance exam tested basic mathematics and the ability to read and write. Successful recruits then have to undergo five months of training and pass a further 15 tests to become firefighters.

He said of applicants: "They are failing because of the academics, they are failing because of the medical exams, they are failing because of a number of other reasons — it's mind boggling to me.

"There are people who have failed the drug test, people who have failed the psychological test to ensure you can handle the stress of the job and you are able to handle an organised, disciplined environment."

This newspaper understands that past applicants, some in their early twenties, have been in such poor health that they have not even been allowed to take the fitness test due to factors such as high blood pressure.

The annual salary for a firefighter starts at $55,484, though Mr. Hollinsid said there would be "some substantial increase in the very near future" to bring it into line with the Police Service.

The minimum qualification required to apply is a Bermuda School Certificate (BSC) or general education diploma (GED).

The deadline for the latest recruitment drive has been extended to April 9 and 91 people have so far applied. Another 80 who had previously filled in application forms will also be considered.

Labour Minister David Burch told the Senate on Monday that more Bermudians were passing the mandatory drug tests for the Fire Service and Department of Corrections.

A spokeswoman for the Minister did not respond to a request for comment yesterday.

Could you make the grade to become a firefighter?

l Applicants must have a BSC, GED or equivalent and must pass the Fire Service's entrance exam, including a mathematics test.

• You must be 18, no shorter than 5ft 5in, have 20/30 vision and have a manual car driver's licence. Colour blindness is a bar to entry.

• You have to pass a physical fitness test comprising a 3,200-metre run, a 100-metre sprint, sit-ups and push-ups.

• You will also need to complete an ability test, which includes lifting and walking 30ft with an 145 lb dummy, lifting and walking 30ft with two five gallon canisters, climbing an aerial ladder more than 15 metres high at an angle of 60 degrees and pulling a 60 lb weight hand over hand to a height of 3.3 metres and returning it to the ground under control three times in a minute.

• Applicants undergo 22 weeks of training, covering all aspects of structural or aircraft fire rescue. You will have to qualify as an intermediate-level emergency medical technician as part of your training.

* For more information on applying visit Fire Service Headquarters at 49 King Street, Hamilton.