The El Dorado Civil Service Commission and the El Dorado police and fire departments are gearing up for another round of civil service exams on Oct. 16.
Both departments are accepting applications for entry-level positions in the third testing cycle of 2023.
New-hire and promotional exams for both departments were administered in April and yielded only one entry-level candidate that was eligible to hire for the EPD.
Per a request from the police department, the ECSC agreed to another round of testing on July 24 for entry-level candidates.
Less than a month later, the commission scheduled a third batch of tests for the fall -- also a request that came from the EPD.
Though the fire department was able to fill vacancies with the results of the spring exams, EFD Chief Chad Mosby agreed to participate in the summer and fall testing series as a part of ongoing efforts by both departments to keep their ranks filled and eligibility lists stocked amid recruitment and staffing challenges that are reportedly affecting law enforcement and fire service agencies nationwide.
The EPD and EFD each has a total of 52 slots for uniformed personnel.
Over the past few years, both departments have worked with the ECSC and city officials to come up with new ideas to ramp up and change recruiting and marketing strategies.
Increasing visits to area college campuses and high schools (the minimum age is 18 for a firefighter in Arkansas and 21 for a police officer) and utilizing social/digital media are some of the resources the EFD and EPD have tapped into within the past few years.
Targeting candidates with a military background is another idea that has come up in recent discussions.
Mosby and EPD Chief Kenny Hickman have said interest is waning in law enforcement and fire service careers in the U.S.
Retirements, uniformed personnel leaving the professions for higher-paying jobs, mainly in the private sector, and strained community-police relationships are some of the reasons for increased turnover rates by fire-service and police agencies across the country.
Of the two local departments, the EPD has seemingly taken the brunt of the nationwide trend.
Earlier this year, Hickman said vacancies within the EPD now average "six to seven," compared to "four to five" in years prior.
Hickman said 17 candidates requested applications for civil service exams in July and 10 applications were submitted.
Six candidates took the exams and of those, three passed all three phases of the test -- written, oral interview and physical fitness.
Candidates who successfully completed all three phases of testing in July and were hired by the EPD include:
Cammie Smith, 1 (ranking),
Destany Vines, 2.
Te'aja Burns, 3.
"Recruiting has been far more difficult over the past four or five years. We're down about 60 percent from 2018 and 2019," Hickman said shortly after the July test results were certified. "This is the first time since 2020 that we've had more than a couple of people take a test at any given time."
A major change that has helped with recruiting for the EPD was a decision by city officials to boost salaries in order to attract and retain talent and compete with other police departments in the region.
Hickman and EPD Capt. Jason Dumas approached the city's Finance Committee on May 18 with a request to increase pay for EPD officers.
On June 8, the El Dorado City Council approved a budget adjustment totaling $193,500 ($190,750 for salaries and wages and $2,750 for payroll taxes) for salary increases across the board for uniformed employees with the EPD.
Starting/base pay for entry-level positions increased from $18.08 an hour to $20.30.
Following the July civil service exams, Hickman said the EPD was left with four vacancies for non-civilian positions and he planned to ask the ECSC to schedule another testing cycle for 2023.
Scheduling three civil service exam cycles within a year is rare for the local departments.
The EPD, EFD and ECSC typically offer entry-level and promotional exams in the spring and schedule at least one other testing cycle for new hires, if necessary, during a calendar year.
Hickman and Dumas previously said the EPD has sustained by hiring certified officers over past few years.
Hickman noted that prior to the most recent group of new hires, nine of the last 10 hires for the EPD were certified officers who had come from other departments.
Mosby said the EFD certified four new firefighters who passed civil service exams in July.
"Ultimately, we started out with 31 applications but only 18 returned the additional information that we requested, including background information to vet candidates," Mosby said. "So, we had 18 to submit that paperwork and nine to take the test."
Four candidates completed and passed all three phases of testing.
The EFD was able to fill four vacancies with candidates who passed the civil service exam in April. A total of five candidates passed the spring test.
Mosby said another vacancy opened up prior to the July testing cycle and the EFD exhausted its eligibility list by hiring the fifth candidate from April.
EFD candidates who passed the civil service exam in July are:
Jacob Brimer, 1.
Colbey Smith, 2.
Rodriguez Dismuke, 3.
Grayson Blakely, 4.
The fire department will also participate in the fall civil service exams to keep its eligibility list primed, Mosby said.
The list is good up to one year after civil service test results are certified.
Written tests for EPD candidates will be administered on Oct. 16 and the EFD plans to complete all three phases of its civil service exams prior to Oct. 16.
The deadline to submit applications for the fire department is noon Oct. 6
Applications for the police department are due Oct. 11.
For the fire department, call 870-881-4855. Also visit each department's website and Facebook page.