Fire Department Fills 3 Vacancies With ‘Lateral’ Hires

by | Oct 24, 2019

By Elizabeth F. McNamara

As of Friday, three firefighters will have completed an abbreviated training course and taken their place in the ranks of the EGFD. That shorter training period is because while these firefighters are new to East Greenwich, they are not new to fire fighting. Rather, they are what’s known as “lateral transfers,” firefighters coming to work for EG from a fire department in another community.

Two of the firefighters are coming from Central Coventry Fire District, the third is coming from the Anthony Fire District, also in Coventry.

The EGFD has hired so-called laterals before, including six in 2016, with the idea that the town would get experienced firefighters and save money and time on training.

“Laterals allow us to fill the seat quicker,” said Chief Bernie Patenaude. “If I can do laterals, I can get him or her here through an abbreviated training. I can get them on the truck within a few months. If I have to do a hiring list, run a test, the whole thing, including the fire academy, we’re probably six months before we see them fully trained. So it saves the town money.”

Former Town Manager Gayle Corrigan had taken issue with those transfer hires, arguing it didn’t save money.

“The reason we do it is it saves money,” Chief Patenaude countered. There is no extra pension cost, he said, because the town is paying into someone’s pension no matter what. “We only pay for while we have [a firefighter],” he said.

Additionally, with recent changes to the town’s health insurance plan for new hires, town employees have to work for the town for 20 years before they are able to retire with health benefits. Their work for another department does not count toward that total.

Corrigan also said not using a hiring list limited the diversity of candidates, including women and minorities. 

Town Manager Andy Nota said a mix of employees based on age, experience, gender, ethnicity and other classifications would make for a more well-rounded department. But, he said, “We do not often have a diverse pool of candidates [who] express interest in these positions. This is no different than the hiring challenges that the Police Department has been facing in recent times. Many similar public safety agencies are competing for the same pool of qualified applicants.” 

Patenaude said he would like to open a hiring list. He may soon have a need for one. While the three new hires brought the department up to full staff, earlier this month two EG firefighters Matt Howard and Andrew Campbell resigned to join the Cranston Fire Department. 

“Great firefighters, great employees,” Chief Bernie Patenaude said of Howard and Campbell. But now the department is down two firefighters.

Patenaude, who started as a volunteer for the EG Fire District but spent the majority of his career in Cranston, acknowledged the appeal of a larger department. 

“There’s more spots, more captains, more lieutenants, more stations, more people on a truck. I think that’s the main driver of this. More people on an apparatus and more trucks at a scene,” he said. “We’re a small town, a small department. We have 4,000 to 5,000 runs a year; Cranston has 15,000. With the amount of manning we have here, guys get ordered back in. When you have 200 people in a department [like Cranston], you can fill those spots. You’re not forced back in.”

Town Manager Andy Nota agreed.

“Not all employees seek out excessive amounts of overtime, as they have other priorities in their lives,” he said. “It can also be about life/work balance.”

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