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San Diego Fire Department Could See Employee Retention Problems

Photo caption: A San Diego Fire Department vehicle parked in the Gaslamp Quarter, July 26, 2...

Photo credit: Mark H. Anbinder / Flickr

A San Diego Fire Department vehicle parked in the Gaslamp Quarter, July 26, 2009.

San Diego fire officials are concerned they could soon face the same staffing attrition and retention problems as the police department and have begun tracking data on academy recruits, according to a report delivered Wednesday.

Fire Chief Ken Barnes' presentation to the San Diego City Council's Public Safety and Livable Neighborhoods Committee took a 10-year look at firefighter staffing. The department recently began tracking data on academy recruits following concerns over less qualified candidates showing interest in becoming firefighters.

While not currently experiencing major problems with the recruitment of firefighters, the department has recently noticed some recruits are waiving job interviews and declining job offers, which was unheard of during the height of the Great Recession, according to the report.

An average of 12.6 firefighters leave the department annually for reasons other than retirement. Barnes said the department has expanded recruitment efforts, recently setting up shop at a Black History Month fair and reaching out to various college athletic programs, among other places.

The department currently has 46 firefighter vacancies, according to Barnes.

A half-dozen firefighter academies have been held since the 2013 fiscal year. Nearly 5,000 people applied to firefighter academies in 2013, according to department statistics, compared to 2,800 applicants for the three fire academies for fiscal year 2015.

The department is not sure why there was such a big change between the two years.

"Some of these early signs tell me we should have this on the radar," Councilman Todd Gloria said.

The fire department is concerned about losing the most qualified candidates to other departments in the future due to lower pay and benefits offered in San Diego.

Gloria suggested the fire department come up with more ways to track movement within the department.

Councilwoman Marti Emerald, the committee chair, requested that the fire department give quarterly reports on staffing and retention to keep city staff abreast of any potential problems.

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