In a conversation with Rick Cole, Ventura’s city manager, one topic was why firefighters are getting raises during a time when people aren’t getting raises and numerous Ventura residents are losing their jobs.

Cole said that it was necessary to boost salaries and pensions for local firefighters so that department salaries would be attractive to new recruits and to retain those already on the force, even though it has been reported only four firefighters have left the department in the last four years. He also said it is hard to find qualified applicants because Ventura’s new hires have to be licensed paramedics. And because it is so difficult to attract and/or retain these qualified individuals, Ventura’s fire department has been running understaffed: The department only has 67 firefighters of the necessary 72 to be fully staffed.

In other words, Ventura has been paying overtime over and beyond the norm for the last year and a half because, according to Cole, they can’t attract qualified applicants.

Thanks to a pay raise in August, retroactive back to July, Ventura firefighters, which include new hires after their 12-month probationary period, are getting paid anywhere from $5,143 to $6,564 a month, or up to $78,000 a year, plus overtime that results in some of our firefighters making more than $100,000 a year. Assistant Chief Rod Smith of the Ventura fire department said that he could not quantify how many overtime hours the firefighters were working this year, but he knows it has been a lot because of the numerous fires in the region our local firefighters had been dispatched to.

According to the SimplyHired.com, average median income of all workers in the city of Ventura is $33,200 per year — less than half of a firefighter. Understandably, firefighters put their lives at risk for each call and work odd hours that take them away from their families, but to say there are no qualified applicants to pick up the slack seems unbelievable.

The requirement at the time of application to become a Ventura firefighter is to have a current California paramedic license and a current CPR certification. Since anyone can take a CPR class and become CPR-certified within about four hours — even 10-year-old junior lifeguards can become certified —leaves us with obtaining a paramedic license. Being a licensed paramedic in the state of California is a unique requirement of the city of Ventura’s fire department.

According to Oxnard College Regional Fire Academy, the following is the necessary steps to obtain a paramedic license: 1.) Complete an EMT class: cost $250. 2.) Work as an EMT for six months, take the National Registry Test and become a certified EMT. 3.) Take a paramedic course, equivalent to one or two semesters, depending on what school you go to, and stay working as an EMT for the necessary experience. Also, take some courses on fire technology. Schools include Ventura College or UCLA, TTI or any accredited paramedic school. Cost: $1,500 to $3,000. Take another National Registry Test to become a licensed paramedic.

Since there are five positions currently available, it is hard to believe that no one who has applied in the last year or so qualifies to become a Ventura firefighter; or that all who qualify think the pay is too low and have gone somewhere else.

There must be a problem in finding these applicants.

Our mission is to help in the recruiting process. Our firefighters shouldn’t have to work overtime and neglect their families. The victims who are rescued by our local firefighters shouldn’t have to suffer because our firefighters are overworked.

The fire department should also be fully staffed enabling five new recruits to work hard and to be able provide for their families.

The point is: If we can have a full staff of firefighters and fewer firefighters have to work overtime, the firefighters, the city and the taxpayers will all benefit.

The real question is: Who wouldn’t want to make $78,000 a year after only a year in the department with minimal to no school debt? There has to be some dedicated licensed paramedics ready for the job.

We suggest our local paramedics apply for the jobs; we ask firefighters to get your paramedic license and join our team. We look forward to Ventura’s fire department being fully staffed soon.

For more information, go to www.cityofventura.jobs or call 654-7853 during regular business hours; or go to City Hall at 501 Poli Street, Room 210, Ventura, Cali.