Hall County Fire Services is planning to ask for permission to hire new firefighters — again.
The department has found itself short staffed again, just a few months after getting authorization to hire 12 new firefighters in early 2010.
“Since we hired those 12 people, we’ve had eight leave,” Hall County Fire Chief David Kimbrell said Tuesday.
Kimbrell said the 12 new firefighters were hired to help maintain service. Now that an additional eight people have left, the department is running into the same problems with employees working extra shifts to make up the difference.
“The commission has allowed us overtime to allow us to keep a base level on our fire trucks,” Kimbrell said.
In October 2008, Hall County instituted a hiring freeze to cut costs. Because of attrition, fire services has 26 frozen positions.
“We’re still well below those frozen positions,” Kimbrell said.
Kimbrell said being understaffed has required a little bit more work and logistics, but has not compromised safety. Fire services has about 200 employees.
“With vacancies and people in school, we have two people on a truck instead of three,” Kimbrell said. “We can just call another fire truck if we need additional people at a scene.”
Kimbrell said the firefighters who left the department went for various reasons — some switched over to law enforcement, one decided to go back to school to become a physicians assistant and some just decided to get out of the field.
“I’m really amazed with people leaving when the economy’s bad. You’d think people would be grasping on to what they have,” Kimbrell said.
Hall County Human Resources Director Linda Pryor said the turnover in fire services is a bit unusual but is not symptomatic of any larger issues with county staff.
“Overall turnover is much lower than it was two years ago,” Pryor said. “That’s just because there’s not as much fluidity in any labor market.
“In times like these I’m really surprised that anybody leaves a job.”
She said turnover is typically higher in more demanding fields, including fire services and the detention center.
“People do come into it a lot of times and don’t really know what they’re getting into,” Pryor said. “That’s the nature of the work.”
Personnel makes up a large portion of the county’s operating budget. As tax revenues have declined over the past few years, cost saving measures — such as employee furlough days, hiring freezes and a halt to county contributions to employee retirement funds — have been put in place to help balance the budget.
Pryor said the county is concerned that the reduced benefits could have employees beginning to look for greener pastures.
“We want find a way to reinstate those things that employees have lost,” Pryor said. “We are all concerned as we go into this further that at some point opportunities may start to expand out there in the economy and we want to be sure we are in a competitive position and can keep our good employees at that time.”