One of the last obstacles to hiring Bellevue’s first full-time firefighters was removed Tuesday by the city’s Civil Service Commission.
The commission approved an agreement with the City of Bellevue that says Bellevue’s existing part-time firefighters will get first crack at any open full-time jobs.
That agreement will allow the city to start the process of hiring firefighters at a time when the fire chief says the department is dangerously short-staffed. Bellevue could see new full-time firefighters as early as Jan. 1.
Fire Chief Perry Guido said staffing levels are so low that officials have taken trucks out of service at least five times this year because there weren’t enough firefighters on duty.
“We need to get people on the street,” commission member Manny Jones said.
The issue was the city’s contract with the part-time firefighters; it says they should get preference for any open jobs. But the Civil Service Commission, which administers testing for fire and police candidates, said state law prohibits that sort of preference.
The city and commission had been in talks for months when they announced a compromise Tuesday: The commission will give preference to candidates who’ve been with the fire department for six months.
But that agreement is only valid for one round of applicant testing. That testing will create a list of potential candidates that’s good for one to two years.
“There’s a point where this will no longer be necessary,” Guido told the commission.
Bellevue has been served by part-time firefighters with full-time command staff since 2010, when the department stopped using volunteers. But the city has been losing those part-time firefighters, many of whom are leaving for jobs in full-time departments.
There’s another holdup in the hiring of firefighters — cost.
A proposed city budget for next year has enough money to hire 12 full-time firefighters.
That budget isn’t a sure thing, because it must get approval from the City Council. But council members have indicated that they see hiring firefighters as a priority.