HOBART | Hobart Mayor Brian Snedecor hopes to add at least three firefighters to the Hobart Fire Department by the start of next year.
"We have a lot of firefighters retiring after the first of the year and we're looking to replace at least one firefighter per turn," Snedecor said.
He told Hobart Firefighters Local 1641 President Tom Castle about the additional hirings and plans to name a new fire chief earlier this month. Castle said three firefighters already have filed their paperwork indicating they are retiring and six others are eligible to retire.
A department that once had 60 firefighters presently has 45 on its roster.
"Morale is a little low because the numbers are low. Once we have a new fire chief named and get the new hires the morale should improve," Castle said.
Castle and Snedecor met earlier to discuss a controversy that arose at the Nov. 6 City Council meeting over the fire chief's selection.
The City Council discussed but did not approve an amendment to the city's Fire Civil Service Ordinance that would allow the mayor to select a new fire chief from outside the city's Fire Department.
The ordinance now limits the mayor to naming a fire chief from the department's current members. That individual also must be a ranking officer and have at least five years of experience on the department.
The department has been without a fire chief or assistant fire chief for more than a month.
Interim Fire Chief Brian Kerr stepped down in early October after holding the position for about three months.
Kerr returned to his regular turn schedule, and the three fire battalion chiefs were named to handle administrative duties, Snedecor said.
Castle said he is also confident the mayor will find the best candidate among the ranks because at least five officers have applied for the chief position.
"I spoke with five people who I know are applying and that's a huge turnout with only 12 eligible. I see that as a positive signal for the mayor and the Fire Department to have that many interested," Castle said.
Snedecor said he plans to make every attempt to fill the vacant fire chief position from someone within the department.
"If no candidate emerges, then the firefighters understand my need to explore candidates from outside the department," Snedecor said.
Applications were to have been turned in by Friday, Castle said.
Castle said he and the mayor also have discussed possibly building a new fire station, something he sees as a positive sign.
"The mayor even toured two fire stations this past week, including Valparaiso and Portage. Both have newer fire stations and he wanted to see their layout," Castle said.