By Sherry Greenfield
BALTIMORE — Several candidates for positions in the new Carroll County Department of Fire and Emergency Medical Services are expressing confusion and concern about what they say are unfair testing requirements.
As part of the formation of the department, all current fire and EMS personnel who work in Carroll County have had to apply for new positions with no guarantee of getting hired.
Some current fire and EMS personnel working for volunteer departments in Carroll County say they have failed the psychological testing portion of the county’s multistep hiring process, which also includes a written exam, physical ability testing, a background investigation and an occupational physical.
This has caused frustration and anger among the fire and EMS personnel, who contend that their years of paramedic and firefighter experience should be enough to secure them a position in the new department.
In emails to county officials, Jason Jackman, who is a paid paramedic for the Westminster Volunteer Fire Department, and his wife, Nicole Jackman, who does not work in firefighting or EMS, say that having an assessment that weighs heavily on personality and life experiences is dangerous.
“Instead of focusing on individuals who have proved they could safely respond to medical or fire emergency, you end up with those who know how to answer a test, a test where a majority of the questions do not relate to the actual EMS/fire profession,” the Jackmans wrote.
The Jackmans and others have taken their frustration to social media, including special Facebook pages, to air their grievances. They contend that department Director Michael Robinson Sr., assured those already working in Carroll’s volunteer companies that they would be “grandfathered in,” and would be rehired by the county for its new department.
Robinson told the Board of Carroll County Commissioners in February 2022 during discussions on the new Department of Fire and EMS, that the psychological testing is designed to assess essential job functions of public safety personnel and predict behavioral risks and adverse outcomes.
“We intend to emulate the process of some of the other jurisdictions in the region, which includes psychological testing,” Robinson said last year. “They’ll look at areas of past history and ability to perform under duress. There is a high degree of accuracy for predicting success.”
On Tuesday the county sent an email to firefighters and paramedics who applied for a position in the new department but failed the testing. The applicants were told they would have to wait six months before retesting, but the email states that the department is providing a one-time opportunity to take the exams again.
“Carroll County Department of Fire and Emergency Medical Services is striving to establish one of the premier systems in the state, region or even the country with serving and protecting residents as our number one priority,” the email states. “We set a high standard and every effort is made to not sacrifice our goals or standards regardless of challenges.
“As we navigate through this hiring process for the first time, it is only natural for us to evaluate our processes and consider improvements to our plans.”
Those who want to be reconsidered for a paramedic, firefighter/paramedic, fire apparatus driver or operator position must register and attend a mandatory refresher session on April 10 or April 12. Retests will be given on April 14 and 15 at the Carroll County Public Safety Training Center in Westminster.
“As a reminder, this is a one-time opportunity and applicants who do not successfully pass the written exam again will be subject to the six-month waiting period from the date of the retesting before they will be able to reapply for a position with [the Department of Fire and EMS],” the email states.
Jason Jackman said he failed the testing in February and was told he would have to wait six months to retest.
Though he plans on taking advantage of the opportunity to retest next week, Jackman said he is still frustrated with the hiring process, specifically the psychological testing.
“I failed the first test,” he said. “The personality part of the test got a lot of us. Basically, at this point I can go back and answer the questions against my personality.”
Robinson denied a request for an interview on this topic. Instead the county sent an email Wednesday stating that hiring for the department is an extensive multiphase process.
“As we embark on hiring our inaugural group of employees and work through the established process for the first time, it is only natural and expected for the county to evaluate our processes,” the email states. “The county, through both the Department of Fire & EMS and the Department of Human Resources, has spent over a year developing a hiring process. This process is reflective of industry standards to include several assessments that encompass an objective evaluation of candidates and validation of both their credentials and past fire & EMS experience.
“The end goal is to establish a pool of the most qualified personnel to meet the needs of Carroll County. This is an ongoing process to support our incremental hiring and deployment of personnel beginning in June 2023.”
Jackman and other fire and EMS personnel said they were told by Robinson that their jobs were secure and they would automatically be part of the new department.
“Robinson came to everyone and told us, ‘You’re not going to have to fight for your job,’” said Joel Yingling, who works as a fire truck driver and operator for the Reese Volunteer Fire Company in Westminster, and said he failed his first round of testing. “They’re losing all these good people, because of backdoor stuff, and these stupid tests.”
However, Robinson told county commissioners in May 2022 that as part of the development of the new department, all current fire and EMS personnel would have to apply for a position with no guarantee of getting hired again. He also said specifications and responsibilities for the job could change.
The county plans to hire up to 200 new personnel to staff the new department. So far 16 lieutenants have been hired and began work last month. They are now facilitating the hiring of about 134 more personnel from an applicant pool of more than 300.
Robinson told commissioners last spring that the county’s fire and EMS needs are sometimes not being met due to inconsistent staffing levels. Robinson, who became the director on Sept. 9, is charged with the overall direction, administration and evaluation of the newly established department and will plan, develop, implement and evaluate a countywide combination fire and EMS system, as well as policies and procedures.
“Our objective is to assure 24/7 fire and EMS coverage to the county,” Robinson said last year.
The push to create a combination paid and volunteer county fire service began in Carroll County more than a decade ago. In 2018, the Maryland General Assembly passed legislation allowing the county to establish the new department, and, in October 2020, commissioners unanimously voted to pass an ordinance creating it.
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