By Ryan Lengerich
When the bells go off at Clovis fire station No. 3 and the ambulance sirens are flicked on, Bill Baca doesn’t know who or what he will encounter.
The fire department’s driver and paramedic said at least twice each month he will encounter a Spanish-only speaking subject. Baca said he speaks limited Spanish; many of the city’s police officers speak the language fluently.
Often, he must wait for an officer to communicate with a subject.
“Luckily, none of (his subjects) have been a real true emergency,” Baca said. “Most of the time they are medical problems where they can wait that little extra bit of time until that officer shows up.”
Encouraging fire department personnel to become bilingual is part of a new incentive plan adopted unanimously Thursday by the Clovis City Commission.
“I have always thought that everyone in the department should have at least some kind of Spanish training,” said Baca, who plans to keep studying the language.
Firefighters will be rewarded for reaching any of eight possible incentives. Being bilingual will mean $25 to $50 extra per month. Personnel can also earn money for being an instructor, hazardous materials technician, emergency vehicle technician or reaching either of two command levels.
The department will also set a physical fitness standard worth $25 each month.
The overall incentive program will impact the remaining 2004-2005 budget by $10,720, according to figures provided by the city. Estimates show an additional $43,440 impact to the 2005-2006 fiscal year budget.
Fire department personnel have often pursued certification standards voluntarily, said Clovis Fire Chief Ron Edwards.
“We thought they should be rewarded in some fashion for doing that,” Edwards said.
Clovis’ fire department has 71 employees, Deputy Fire Chief Ray Westerman said. He told the commission he would like to hire 12 to 15 more.
Recruiting efforts have taken place around the city he said, but he does not expect the incentives to give a significant boost to recruiting. The incentives, many of which require certifications, will not affect new employees as much, Westerman said.
Westerman and Edwards agree the most important incentive position will be for shift-training assistants. Six appointed STAs, who will earn an extra $120 per month, will assess new employees’ skills and schedule continuing education credit among other duties, Westerman said.
The city pays staff health club fees to either Gym X or Clovis Community College. Edwards said in an emergency, a firefighter’s heart rate can jump from 60 beats per minute to 200 in a short time. The fitness standard, he said, will be stringent.
“It is extremely important, especially the cardiovascular and upper body strength,” Edwards said.
Baca will earn extra money as a haz-mat technician. The seven-year veteran with the department is encouraged the administration and city leaders are taking steps to help the department.
“It is a step in the right direction, all be it a small step,” Baca said. “It shows that in good faith they are trying to step forward.”