PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — The Peoria fire department just added 16 new faces to its team, something the department hasn’t done in three years.
Jim Bachman, Peoria’s fire chief, said the last time a graduating class came on board from Peoria’s Fire Academy was in June of 2018.
Bachman said uncertainties led to the department’s hiring drought.
“Back in 2020, we lost Engine 2 and there was some speculation as to whether or not we were going to lose Engine 20,” Bachman said. “Rather than put a class on and hire some firefighters and then end up losing another engine, we held off until we knew we were keeping that other engine in service prior to hiring a bunch of people and then having to turn around and possibly lay people off.”
Now, he said they’re excited to officially welcome the much-needed bunch to the team.
“That’s a huge deal for us,” Ryan Brady, Peoria Firefighters Local 50 Union President, said.
Brady said the new class is a big deal after the department’s recent budget cuts, engine losses, retirements, and resignations. He said the new members’ main purpose is to fill staffing and replace those who’ve left the fire department over the past year or so.
Brady said bringing on new members also helps to free up some of the workloads for firefighters who’ve been working overtime on understaffed shifts.
“You’ve got firemen, men, and women from Firefighters Local 50 that are running upwards of 20 calls in two-shift days,” Brady said. “This should alleviate members having to work 48 hours with one day off and give them some peace of mind when it comes to the call volume we’ve seen.”
He mentioned the 16 new hires adds to the department’s diversity as the new class featured some African American and Hispanic recruits. Brady also said having 16 new people paying their 10 percent, every paycheck, into the unfunded liability will help with the pension problem.
But one of the big questions was how will the recent hiring of new members impact the department’s emergency response times. According to Bachman, it won’t.
“This doesn’t change response times, it doesn’t put another machine back in service,” Bachman said. “In order for us to boost our response times, we need another apparatus or two. We’re just replacing people that have left, so we’re not adding any new machines at this time.”
Nevertheless, he said he’s happy to welcome the next generation of firefighters, saying they’re not only bringing fresh faces to the department but reinvigorating the job as a whole.
Clint Kuhlman, battalion chief, said the new hires also provide motivation for the department’s present members.
“The new recruits need training and that’s just extra inspiration for our existing firefighters to get out and train with them,” Kuhlman said.
Brady said with 16 new members now on board, there are already talks of possibly adding more to the bunch. He also said they’re still hoping to reach some common ground with the city to possibly use some of its Fiscal Recovery Funds to restore the department’s fire engine.