City growth leads to hiring 20 firefighters

Lafayette firefighter candidates Darrius Osborne and Ernesto Amador waited Wednesday for their turn for an interview at the Lafayette Fire Department’s Training Academy.

Looking sharp with perfect postures, brand new ties and a hint of cologne, they sweated a bit while anticipating the next step: an interview with three veteran firefighters.

Osborne and Amador on Monday passed physical tests such as climbing a fire truck ladder that was 75 feet high, dragging a fire hose, and running a mile and a half within 15 minutes. Of the 31 who tried, 24 passed the physical test. Now they were about to be interviewed by three veteran firemen who comprised the hiring panel.

Osborne said he’d never put out a fire before. “I’d like to learn,” he said.

The men, both 22, were vying to be two of the 20 firefighter trainees in the months ahead to add to the current roster of 247 firefighters, said Lafayette Fire Chief Robert Benoit. Another 36 are employed with the department in support roles, he said.

“Lafayette is growing, and we’re trying to grow with it,” said Benoit, who has been the city’s chief since August 1993.

For the first two years, the salaries and benefits for the 20 new fire employees will be paid using a Federal Emergency Management Agency grant of $1.7 million, called a SAFER grant — Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response.

In 2013, Lafayette received its first FEMA grant for $1.6 million and used it to hire 20 firefighters. When the proceeds of both subsidies run out, Lafayette City-Parish Government will pick up the tab.

Beyond the 20 hired via the FEMA grant, Benoit said, the city is looking to hire 11 more, all to keep up with Lafayette’s population growth.

The extra personnel are needed now, Benoit said, but they’ll really be in demand once two new fire stations are completed.

Dirt work is underway for the $2.1 million Fire Station 14, at the intersection of Curran Lane and South Domingue Avenue in northwest Lafayette. The project is scheduled for completion in about a year. Also, building specifications on Fire Station 15, a $1 million project to be located on Settler’s Trace near the River Ranch subdivision in Lafayette, are being drawn.

Benoit said landing good applicants has been a challenge: Higher-paying oil and gas jobs draw the physically and mentally fit applicants away from government work, even away from being a firefighter, the dream job of many little boys.

On Wednesday, Amador was called into the interview room at Lafayette’s Training Academy where training Chief Richard Barron, head of fire investigators Keith Sonnier and district Chief Chris Domingue awaited.

Barron, who did the asking, said the interview was designed to gauge three areas: Amador’s background, his motivation and how he expressed himself.

Barron also wanted to know if Amador would be content on first-year wages of $25,500, if he knew overtime for firefighters kicks in after 53 hours, not 40, and if he had the endurance to work 12-hour shifts for days at a time before getting three days off.

Barron asked if he was ready for the physical rigors required to fight fires.

“I’m pretty sure I am,” Amador said.