Recruiting, Retaining a Big Hurdle

'Recruitment and retention there is a problem for us and it’s a problem nation-wide. It’s not unique to Oskaloosa. It is a commitment.'

by Angie Holland, The Oskaloosa Herald, Iowa / March 12, 2019

(TNS) - Recruiting and retaining employees and volunteers is a difficulty faced by Mahaska County’s first responders.

The Oskaloosa, Iowa, Police Department, Oskaloosa Fire Department, Mahaska County Sheriff’s Department, Mahaska County Emergency Management Agency and Mahaska Health Partnership shared the stage at Saturday’s Eggs and Issues.

Fire

Oskaloosa Fire Chief Mark Neff said currently the biggest hurdle the fire department is facing is recruiting and retaining reserve firefighters.

The Oskaloosa Fire Department is staffed with eight full-time firefighters and also utilizes paid on-call reserve firefighters.

“Recruitment and retention there is a problem for us and it’s a problem nation-wide. It’s not unique to Oskaloosa. It is a commitment,” he said. “When folks come on and choose the reserve department, they’ve got to go through the same physical agility tests that our career staff do. We do an interview process. They then are hit with 136 hours of initial firefighter training and then that starts tailing into maybe additional hours.”

Police

Oskaloosa Police Chief Ben Boeke agreed with Neff.

“We’ve been filling a lot of employment gaps here in the last 10 months or so. We had some people leave for different reasons, and that’s a problem, like Chief Neff said, across the state and across the country,” he said. “People in law enforcement are a high commodity right now. And they know if they go and put in a couple years somewhere, they can go somewhere else and maybe make a little bit more money, have more opportunities.”

Boeke said one of his goals is to keep local people in the community.

“And we’re trying to broaden their horizons, give them good training. Richard Branson’s big on ‘train people so they can leave, but treat them well enough so they’ll stay,’” he said. “And that’s kind of one of my philosophies that I work with. We want to make sure that everybody’s well-trained and they want to come here because there is opportunity here.”

Some recent local hires have included officers from Oskaloosa, What Cheer and the Muscatine area, Boeke said.

“Some of these guys are some of the best people you’ll find anywhere and they’re sitting right here waiting for us to give them an opportunity,” he said. “So that’s something that I have tried to push and we are going to keep pushing forward to give local guys that opportunity.”

Boeke said he doesn’t need to hire from West Des Moines.

“West Des Moines takes my people because I’ve already trained them well and sent them on,” he said. “So I’d rather hire locally here and then show them what Oskaloosa has to offer so they want to stay here and I think that’s important.”

Sheriff

Mahaska County Sheriff Russell Van Renterghem said he hasn’t lost any deputies over the past two years, aside from one retirement.

Van Renterghem said when he came into office just over two years ago, a big goal of his was to strengthen the reserve deputy unit. The reserve deputy unit is chartered for 50 members.

“When I took office, we were down to 13,” he said. “I got myself certified and four of my deputies are now certified through the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy and we are reserve officer instructors. Last fall, we hosted a reserve class, and that’s a 240-hour class in six different sections.”

Now, there are 30 members, Van Renterghem said.

“I am very happy with my crew,” he said, “and I want to hold onto them.”

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