On Friday afternoon at the bottom of the grassy landscaped tiers in front Bloomington’s city hall, Devin Owens tore open an envelope and read aloud the contents: “Probationary firefighter Owens. I am assigned to Black Shift Station 1.”
The announcement earned a round of applause from a gathering of about 60 people.
The ritual reading aloud of station assignments by Owens and 10 other new firefighters came after they were sworn in by city clerk Nicole Bolden.
Fire chief Jason Moore, deputy chief Jayme Washel, battalion chief for training Tania Daffron, and a couple of dozen other firefighters attended the ceremony, as did Bloomington mayor John Hamilton, deputy mayor Don Griffin and several other city staff.
At 11 members, it’s the largest and most diverse recruiting class ever, Moore told The B Square.
The station to which Owens was assigned is currently closed, due to around a half million dollars worth of damage, which it sustained during the June 18–19 flooding.
A temporary station location has been set up at the former Bunger & Robertson building at College Square, four blocks west of Station 1. It looks like it will serve as the temporary replacement for the flood-damaged facility for a year or longer.
Fire protection for the area covered by Station 1 is already provided out of the temporary station during the day. Engine 1 is parked on the north side of the building, facing 4th Street.
In the next couple of weeks, a temporary bay will get installed, which will provide security for the truck. That will allow standard 24/7 staffing of a crew at the former law offices.
The geographic location of the temporary station and its internal configuration is somewhat better for fire protection than Station 1, Moore told The B Square.
Close proximity to either Walnut Street or College Avenue, the two main north-south arteries for downtown, is optimal for response travel time, Moore said. The temporary location is less than a block from College Avenue. Station 1 is two blocks east of Walnut.
Inside the former Bunger & Robertson building, the fire department is taking up space just on the first floor. According to Moore, that will reduce response turnout time by 38 seconds, compared to the layout of Station 1, which has three floors.
The fire pole in Station 1, Moore said, doesn’t help to reduce response time, because firefighters can’t be required to use it—on account of safety considerations. The kind of pole at Station 1, which is a straight shot all the way down between the third floor and the ground floor, is no longer allowed for new construction, Moore said. Any new poles that are installed have to be offset, so that it’s not possible to fall farther than one floor through the opening.
Some of the minor renovations to the former lawyer’s offices have already been completed, in anticipation of 24/7 staffing of a crew at the temporary station. For example, an oven has been added to the kitchenette. A washer and dryer have been delivered, but as of Friday not been hooked up. Installation of a second shower is in progress.
The large size of the 11-member class that was sworn in on Friday was due in part to retirements this year. It reflects a replacement of about 10 percent of Bloomington’s firefighters—the fire department is budgeted this year for 110 employees.
Those retirements were not unexpected, because of the way longevity pay is structured in the most recent collective bargaining agreement. When the city and the firefighters inked the new agreement last year, Moore told the city council, “We do anticipate this contract, with the change to retirement, may increase the turnover rate.”
A few of the departures from the department were to Monroe Fire Protection District, Moore told The B Square. MFPD recently bumped its firefighter pay.
Moore said even with the large recruiting class this year, the department still has a couple more open firefighter positions, which he thinks will be straightforward to fill with the next recruiting class.
The diversity of the incoming class is something Moore noted in his comments to The B Square. The racial and gender makeup of Bloomington’s fire department has been under enough security that a dataset for the department’s profile is now maintained on the city’s data portal.
Before this year’s recruiting class, the department included about 5 percent women, and between 3 to 4 percent Black and or people of color.
Last year during budget discussion, councilmember Jim Sims asked Moore about the department’s efforts to increase diversity.
Moore said that the department is working to recruit a more diverse pool of applicants, in part by supporting the Hoosier Hills Career Center in the Monroe County Community School Corporation and the Ivy Tech fire science program.
Photos: July 23, 2021 BFD Swearing-in Ceremony