Cape Cod first responder shortage highlights town hiring difficultes

When Barnstable Police Chief Matt Sonnabend recently talked to the town council about his department’s budget, he mentioned he had eight staff vacancies.

“Hiring is a struggle right now,” he said.

And that applies pretty much everywhere on Cape Cod.  Local communities are among 86% of cities and towns nationwide having trouble attracting first responders. For the Cape, the problem is tied to the high price of housing.

Truro has vacancies for three patrol officers, and a fourth patrol officer is on medical leave but is expected to return. 

Bourne has been short two paramedics for almost a year, according to Bourne Fire Chief David Cody.

The Eastham Fire Department has one opening for a firefighter/paramedic, and another was just hired — but with no experience. Eastham Fire Chief Kent Farrenkopf said that’s the first time that’s happened to him.

Yarmouth Police Lt. Cal Bogden said that on test day, the department used to fill school cafeterias with hundreds of recruits vying for local entry-level police jobs. Now, he says, barely 75 show up.

Sandwich Police Department has two openings, and with requirements for the state civil service system and training academies, Police Chief Peter Wack doesn’t expect to have new hires on the job until fall 2022.

Throughout Cape Cod, the lack of reasonably priced housing and the high cost of living are big contributors to the problem, town officials say.

Police and fire chiefs cite multiple other factors, too, though: changes through the state police reform bill; reduced numbers in summer reserve programs that were once recruiting tools for officers; civil service system requirements; pay scales; recent police controversies nationwide; and concern about firefighting chemicals that have caused cancer.

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