Lake Elmo hires two part time firefighters, looks to hire more

Faced with a shortage of volunteer firefighters during the day, the Lake Elmo City Council voted to starting hiring part-time day-shift firefighters. The council approved the city’s first two applicants during its Sept. 5 meeting. About 90 percent of calls for service in Lake Elmo are during the day, Fire Chief Greg Malmquist said, but the daytime shift has been the most difficult to find volunteers to respond to calls.

The two applicants, Nate Wagner and Kyle Jacket, will begin work at the department pending a background check, ability test, pre-placement physical and psychological exam. The approved wage is $17 per hour when shift coverage starts.

In order to fill the 12-hour service window with part-time firefighters, the city will need to hire a minimum of six new employees — more if the part time applicants cannot work the maximum of 24 hours per work.

“Have we had a lot more than two applicants?” asked Councilmember Julie Fliflet.

“We have had seven external applicants and these are the two that have come this far out of those seven,” Malmquist said. “We have also had five internal paid on call applicants, and we will be interviewing tomorrow.”

Malmquist said one applicant has withdrawn and the department will continue with four internal applicants.

“I guess I have reservations about hiring these two before internal candidates are vetted through the process,” Flfilet said.

City administrator Kristina Handt said the city is looking to hire staff who can work the maximum amount of hours first, in order to keep the number of hires low.

“The approach is that we want to fill the positions with folk that can work 24 hours a week first, before we open it up to people that can work less than that,” Handt said. “That way we can minimize those costs.”

“Six would fill the number of hours if all six worked 24 hours a week,” Malmquist said.

Handt said the city could hire more than six new employees if full availability was limited.

During the Sept. 5 meeting, the council was asked to approve the expenditure of $1,321.20 for the psychological exam and physical exam of both applicants.

“Some of the questions that came up in the budget process is that the physicals and all of the other things that perhaps the city shouldn’t pay for with external candidates that come in certified and working in other communities already,” Fliflet said. “I don’t see a need for the city to do all these things when they are already certified and working in other communities.”

Both of the new part-time firefighters work in other Metro fire departments, Malmquist said.

“This is a new animal for us and I think we need to think a little harder about where we are spending some of this money,” Fliflet said.

“Historically, we have done this for all our hires, all our paid on calls,” Malmquist said. “We have been doing this for years.”

The expenditures for the exams are part of Lake Elmo’s hiring process, Malmquist said, and physical exams are done annually.

“We don’t know what other cities are doing,” Malmquist said.

In her experience working in other communities in Washington County, Handt said that not every fire department requires a psychological exam.

“I don’t support all the expense associated with this,” Fliflet said.

“I hear what your are saying, Councilmember Fliflet, but I can’t say that anything in here is superfluous,” Mayor Mike Pearson said.

The examinations ensure that they can perform their duties and protects the city from future liability costs, Malmquist said.

“It’s to see if they are cut out for that line of work,” Malmquist said. “We have had some applicants who have not passed that, based on the doctor’s recommendation. In the long run, we have saved money and protected the city from liability.”

The council voted 4-1 — with Fliflet dissenting — to approve the two hires and expend $1,321.20 for the required exams.

Assistant city administrator

The city council approved the hiring of an assistant city administrator during the Sept. 5 meeting. Staff recommended the hiring of Jake Foster with an annual salary of $55,000. Foster recently worked at the city of Fridley as a management analyst.

The council voted 4-1 to hire Foster. Fliflet dissented, stating that she opposed the position and had nothing against the candidate.

Contact Alicia Lebens at [email protected]