by: Steph Machado
Posted: Apr 19, 2023 / 01:54 PM EDT
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The Providence Fire Department won’t be hiring a new class of firefighters after all. Fire Chief Derek Silva confirmed the potential six-month training academy, which had been recruiting since last year but was not yet scheduled, will not be taking place. The city had launched a recruiting effort last fall under the administration of former Mayor Jorge Elorza, holding a large event outside the Fire Department in September. The recruiting effort garnered more than 1,000 applicants for the 53rd fire academy, with applications due a few weeks ago. An email went out to applicants informing them of the cancellation and promising to refund application fees.
Silva said the department is well-staffed at roughly 360 firefighters. The department had 374 firefighters at the time the recruitment effort was launched.
Mayor Brett Smiley, the acting public safety commissioner, said the process was cancelled because the department is taking applications for lateral transfers from other fire departments for the first time ever. (Until now, all Providence firefighters had to go through the city’s full six-month academy.) “We’re going to work through that list first,” Smiley said. “It’s more affordable to the city. We want to see how many laterals we receive from other departments before we decide if or how big of a future academy we need to run.”
“We are understaffed in the Fire Department, and you can get a lateral transfer on the job faster,” Smiley noted, since the applicants are already trained firefighters.
The Smiley administration had sent out a call for entry-level applicants for the academy as recently as February, in addition to the lateral transfer applicants. The former public safety commissioner, Steven Paré, said last fall they were planning ahead for retirements, which would decrease the manpower of the department. A recruitment event was held last fall outside the Fire Department for the academy that will no longer take place.
The city was also seeking to diversify the department — which was 94% male and 72% white as of last fall — through the new academy. The president of the NAACP spoke at the recruitment event. The city had budgeted for the recruitment effort last year, but had not yet allocated money for the actual academy. That money would have been in next fiscal year’s budget, had it moved forward. (Smiley is releasing his budget plan next week.) A fire academy hasn’t been held since 2018.
Silva said the department will likely hold a mini academy for lateral transfers this summer, which will last about four to eight weeks. This is the first time the department has ever accepted applications for lateral transfers from firefighters who work for other departments.