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Openings spark flood of applicants for Hall fire service
Hall County firefighters Jack Burnett, left, and Casey Smith, center, help fellow firefighter Mark Brown prepare Thursday for a hazardous material training session. - photo by Tom Reed

When Hall County Fire Services announced it would be hiring for the first time in a year and a half, the interest was overwhelming.

Fire Chief David Kimbrell said he received 483 applications for 12 positions.

“It always runs relatively high but, with the economy like it is, that was an abnormally high number,” Kimbrell said.

In October 2008, Hall County instituted a hiring freeze to cut costs. Due to attrition, fire services currently has 26 frozen positions.

“It had gotten to a point that we were having to face either shutting units down or reducing service,” Kimbrell said.

With overtime hours becoming too costly, the Hall County Board of Commissioners authorized the department to fill about half of the positions.

Hall County Human Resources supervisor Jamila Leavell said the high level of interest in the positions has kept her office busy.

“We got applicants from Florida, as far away as California, North Carolina, Alabama,” Leavell said. “We get them from all over, so I think that says a lot.”

Leavell said while an opening in fire services is “typically a very popular position anyway,” many applicants are likely hoping to get a fresh start.

“Some of them had been laid off and maybe always wanted to do this as a career but never got the opportunity to,” Leavell said.

“One guy told me, ‘I always worked with my dad, and the business kind of went sour. I’ve always wanted to do this, and I’ve heard it’s a great career.’”

Kimbrell said the application process is longer than most jobs.

The first step is the civil service test, which assesses applicants’ math, reading and listening comprehension skills.

Kimbrell said the experience of those who passed the test will then be considered.

Because Hall County firefighters also work as emergency medical responders, training in one of those fields is preferable.

“You can apply with just a desire to work,” Kimbrell said. “It’s much better for us if you can hire someone who has firefighting experience and who’s already EMT or paramedic certified. It’s just less training we have to do.”

Hall County will begin interviewing the top contenders Monday.

“We pick the top portion from that, and then put them through the physical agility portion,” Kimbrell said.

Candidates will go through a 10-station physical test where they will have to perform tasks such as rolling a firehose, chopping with an ax, climbing stairs and dragging a dummy.

“A lot of things our firefighters do on a day-to-day basis, we run them through that in a timed event to see if they can pass in the timing the department has established,” Kimbrell said. “Then we come up with the top 12 candidates and offer a position to them.”
Kimbrell hopes to have the new firefighters begin training April 5.

“Hopefully that will get us back up on the fence,” Kimbrell said. “We’ll still be running kind of short-handed and below minimum manning but at least we won’t have to shut down any units, and we’ll still be able to provide service to the citizens.”