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Today is the last day to sign up for civil service exams for the city’s police and fire departments and the El Dorado Civil Service Commission is considering requests to help cast a wider net for qualified candidates.

Earlier this week, the civil service commission finalized plans for spring testing for the police and fire departments.

The tests — including written, oral and physical agility for the El Dorado Police Department — are scheduled for April 1-3.

To allow for flexibility and to provide its candidates with options, the El Dorado Fire Department scheduled its physical agility tests for March 9, 16 and 30.

Fire Chief Chad Mosby said candidates may choose their preferred date or participate in more than one, even all three dates, if desired.

Commissioners will certify test results at 5 p.m. April 4.

Residency requirements

During a regular civil service commission meeting March 11, Mosby made two requests that he said will help with recruitment and retention — an issue that is reportedly affecting fire departments across the country.

One of the requests pertained to residency requirements, as outlined in civil service commission policy and the city’s employee handbook.

Per the local policy, firefighters and police officers must be Arkansas residents. The policy allows for a maximum distance of 30 miles outside El Dorado city limits.

“And the city handbook says you have to have an Arkansas driver’s license to drive a city vehicle,” Mosby said.

He told commissioners that two candidates for the upcoming exams live in north Louisiana and meet the distance requirement but not the in-state residency stipulations.

“I told them to go ahead and apply and I would talk to the Civil Service Commission,” Mosby said.

One of the candidates lives “just on the other side of Junction City (in Louisiana)” within Union Parish and the other in Springhill, Louisiana, the fire chief said.

He noted that the Union Parish applicant recently inherited property and a house in the area and would “like to live there and raise his family there.”

Commissioner Scott Ellen asked if the candidate had considered fire departments in north Louisiana and Mosby said yes, explaining that the he did not find any viable career options there because of lower pay.

“We’ve had people who live in Junction City and they moved across state lines (to Junction City, Arkansas),” Mosby said.

He said he has discussed the matter with fire chiefs and an assistant chief in other border towns around the state, including Texarkana, Fayetteville, Jonesboro and Fort Smith.

“They think it’s ridiculous to have that rule, especially given the proximity we are to the Louisiana border,” Mosby said.

Commissioner Tiffney Hughes asked Mosby if he was requesting a permanent change for the local policy or a waiver for spring 2019 civil service exams.

Toddy Pitard, chairman of the civil service commission, said the issue needs to be vetted and presented to Mayor Veronica Smith-Creer and the El Dorado City Council for consideration.

“If Mayor Creer likes it, then we move forward. You guys are having a hard time getting firefighters in here, so why should we handcuff ourselves?” Pitard said.

Ellen noted that reason behind the establishment of the residency requirement has virtually been eliminated.

“It doesn’t create the risk or problems that it used to create. We didn’t want somebody from Huttig driving down a dirt road to try to get here in the event of an emergency,” Ellen explained. “But that’s not an issue anymore. Pretty much everything is all paved now.”

Police Chief Kenny Hickman expressed concern about legal issues that could arise if the rule is amended for the EPD.

Pitard said the issue could be explored during the vetting process, telling Hickman that any changes could be tailored for either department.

“We don’t want to make a one-size-fits-all rule if Chief Mosby can do it and you, Chief Hickman, can’t do it,” Pitard said. “We can separate it out.”

Mosby said he had spoken with Smith-Creer about the matter and she seemed receptive to idea of revising the rule.

“I want to be able to tell these guys, ‘You can test and be certified. The civil service commission is looking into it,’” Mosby said.

Waiver

Commissioners approved a second request from Mosby to waive an employment requirement to take the promotional exam for lieutenant/engineer.

The temporary waiver is applicable only to the upcoming testing cycle. Pitard said the commission will study the matter further at a later date.

Mosby said local policy states that firefighters must work for the EFD before they are eligible to take the lieutenant/engineer’s promotional exam.

“I’ve only got one person that meets that eligibility requirement. The state minimum is one year, and that’s what I recommend,” Mosby said.

He also told commissioners that a new state law that will go into effect at end of June will drop the age requirement to apply for a job as a firefighter.

After June, candidates will be able to apply at 18. The current age requirement is 21.

“I want to tell them they can test, but they will not be hired until that bill goes into effect,” Mosby said.

“Eighteen to 21, that’s when they’re starting their life, and we’ve had applicants who were 18 but we don’t test them until they’re 21,” he continued. “They went to another job, and the longer they work at another job, the harder it is to get them back.”

Many fire chiefs across the state are eagerly anticipating the change, Mosby said, adding, “The only ones who are not jumping up and down are the fire departments without recruitment problems.”

Mosby said there are six vacancies for uniformed personnel within the EFD. Two firefighters are also on extended sick leave.

“We’ve lost several people to local industry and other ambulance services. We’re keeping the fire department adequately staffed…,” he said.

With the upcoming civil service exams, Mosby said the EFD has reserved six slots at the Arkansas Fire Training Academy offered by Southern Arkansas University Tech in East Camden.

He said the training will roughly take 10 weeks.

“We’ll start making offers ASAP and we’ll give them enough time to give (job) notices,” the fire chief said.

With dozens of applicants having signed up for entry level exams in April, the chances of filling those six slots are good, Mosby said.

However, he told commissioners that he remains cautiously optimistic, noting that while candidates may pass all phases of civil service testing, other issues could render them ineligible for the job.

“Last time, we had 22, 23 applications and only nine showed up,” Mosby said.

Hickman said the EPD has three openings and he hopes to fill two of them with certified officers who have been hired conditionally, pending physical agility, psychological and drug tests.

He said one of the officers previously worked for the EPD and the other is from Pine Bluff.

Hickman said the numbers are healthy for applicants who have signed up for EPD entry-level exams, noting that in recent years, the police department has experienced some recruitment success with visits to Southern Arkansas University in Magnolia to speak with students enrolled in Criminal Justice classes.

Both chiefs also said several officers have signed up for promotional testing next month.

For more information, call the EPD at 870-881-4800 or the EFD at 870-881-4855 or visit either department’s Facebook page.

Tia Lyons may be contacted at 870-862-6611 or tlyons@ eldoradonews.com.

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