Fire district hires 20 new firefighters

The Menlo Park Fire District hired 20 new firefighters and firefighter paramedics this year, marking “the largest, single most aggressive hiring effort since at least the 1980s, if ever,” Fire Chief Harold Schapelhouman said Wednesday.

Nine of the new firefighters graduated from the County Fire Academy this week and will soon be assigned to one of the stations in Atherton, East Palo Alto, Menlo Park or unincorporated San Mateo County.

Fire District officials held off on hiring new employees during the economic recession, Schapelhouman said.

“We’ve been working hard to catch up to where we needed to be on staffing by hiring the best qualified individuals we could find for this organization,” Schapelhouman said in a statement.

“So far, I’m very happy with how everyone is stepping up, and the energy and excitement of new personnel who just feel proud and privileged to work here,” Schapelhouman said.

The Fire District spends about $4,100 on the hiring process for each candidate, including $1,402 for entry-level fire academy, $975 background checks and $900 on medical and physiological exams.

The district provides fire academy graduates with $12,353 in safety equipment, including uniforms, wildland firefighting equipment and breathing equipment, Schapelhouman said.

The starting salary for a Menlo Park firefighter is $173,779 with benefits, and $186,747 for a firefighter-paramedic.

The district’s turnover rate is less than 1 percent, Schapelhouman said, adding that most firefighters serve in the district for at least 30 years.