Seven Gulfport fire recruits spent the day learning rescue techniques. It's one of the last tests they'll take before they become fully trained firemen. That's why the city has already started its search for another recruiting class.
But, fire chief Pat Sullivan said he's having trouble finding qualified recruits. "We're down now where we're fixing to hire," the chief said. "We have four people that have actually passed all our criteria to get a job." The problem is, Gulfport has 14 positions to fill.
It's not the just fire department that's experiencing the staffing shortages. The police department just hired nine officers. But it still has 11 positions to fill.
Low unemployment figures in Harrison County have made it tough for all Gulfport departments to maintain quality work forces.
Randy Wales is Gulfport's horticulturist. He hires the people who maintain city medians. Wales said that because of the employment situation, "you're not getting people that really want to work, you're getting people who are just getting picked because they were there."
Wales, Sullivan and other Gulfport department heads said they could find better workers, if the city changed its residency requirement. Until now, all Gulfport employees had to live in Harrison County. "And that just handcuffs us. So we need to get the handcuffs off," Sullivan said. "We need to attract a bigger pool of potential employees."
To remedy the staffing concerns, the Gulfport city council approved a residency ordinance amendment. From now on, Gulfport employees can live anywhere in the six coastal counties.
According to Mayor Ken Combs, "The Harrison County area itself just doesn't provide enough capability to recruit in."
Under the amended ordinance, only Gulfport employees who live in Harrison County can drive home their city vehicles.