10 more firefighter recruits sought; City fears vacuum left by retirements.


Byline: Nick Kotsopoulos

WORCESTER - For several years, local fire officials and union leaders have been warning of the day when there would be a mass exodus from the Fire Department.

Because a majority of the department's more than 380 uniformed personnel was hired in the 1970s, they have now reached the requisite age and years of service to qualify and apply for superannuated retirements. Firefighters, along with police and correction officers, reach the maximum pension allowance at 55 years old and 32 years on the job.

As a result, city officials are looking to buffer the impact of the potential retirement exodus by increasing the size of the firefighter recruit class that will begin training in mid-September.

City Manager Michael V. O'Brien is asking the City Council to temporarily increase the Fire Department's table of organization by 10 firefighter positions.

He said that will enable the Fire Department to increase the size of its recruit training class from 29 to 39, and give his administration more time to better project the city's finances and budgets for fiscal years 2012 and 2013. He said all that would have a bearing on decisions made for subsequent firefighter recruit classes.

"We are well aware that we will experience significant (Fire Department) retirements in the very near future," Mr. O'Brien wrote in a report that goes before the City Council tonight. "A majority of our WFD employees were hired in the 1970s in recruit classes with numbers in the hundreds.

"These employees have reached the requisite age and years of service to qualify and proceed forward with superannuated retirements," he added. "These are personal choices but we can reasonably predict that significant vacancies will materialize in a very short time. It is actually quite likely we would drop far below the recession adjusted number of 384 (uniformed personnel) within 12 months if proactive actions are not taken."

Firefighters and police officers can retire and receive a pension that is 72 percent of their pay after being on the job for 29 years and if at least 55 years old. But public safety employees who have been on the job for 32 years are eligible to receive the maximum pension benefit (80 percent of pay) at age 55.

The desired staffing level in the Fire Department is 406 uniformed personnel, though it has been forced to operate with 384 positions during the past two fiscal years because the city's budgetary situation has made it impossible to fill...

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