With several members reaching retirement age adding to the issue of already being understaffed, the Owensboro Fire and Police departments are both looking for ways to grow their departments.
Fire Chief James Howard recently said he anticipates 2023 to be a “big year” for retirement. He noted that his training group of 2003 is just beginning to reach eligibility for retirement, and there are more people on staff who have been there even longer.
“If I had to forecast it, I would expect probably somewhere between 8 to 10 retirements in the back half of the year,” Howard said.
In addition to retirements, he said OFD is searching for ways to retain their firefighters but it’s difficult because there’s no major trend as to why they leave. Howard said it is often not because of burnout or longevity, but a unique reason specific to the individual. He said some of the most recent have left to commit to their own businesses.
“They had invested and built up businesses that were full-time jobs to them. So they were essentially doing two full-time jobs, and it was better for their family to step away,” Howard said.
Howard said they have four spots currently open — not counting the two that just graduated from the academy and have yet to start. They are also undergoing a new entry level process which will bring in a new set of students to the academy. Those students will hopefully join the academy in August and start around Thanksgiving, Howard said.
“We’re hoping this is a healthy recruitment class, because we’re gonna need the bodies,” he said.
At OPD, Police Chief Art Ealum said that the department is currently down eight employees and is expecting upper members to retire in September.
“That will compound the problem, but this is what we’ve been dealing with for quite a while. You take two steps forward and three steps backwards. But like I said, our people were willing to get out there without complaint and do the job,” Ealum said.
Ealum said that they are actively looking at ways to expand their staff, such as through open houses and recruitment fairs.
Ealum said OPD also recently joined the Military to Law Enfrocement Program which allows outgoing soliders to spend the last 6 months of their enlistment in the police academy, and after they’ve passed all of OPD’s tests and graduate from academy they will be offered a position.
But even in that case, they say it still comes down to money.
“A lot of times what I see is people kind of shopping around and again, it comes down to money. Somebody’s looking at becoming an officer here, and they apply to Paducah and several other places and they’re like ‘what do you got for me’” he said.
The City is working on increasing pay in Owensboro to be more competitive, but Ealum said that if the City raises their pay, not long after other markets may raise theirs as well, and it becomes a cycle.