WALLINGFORD — As a second-generation firefighter, Jeff Dingler has been in the Wallingford Fire Department for 15 years. He was promoted from lieutenant to battalion chief earlier this year.
At a young age, Dingler said he was an adrenaline junkie and spent a number of years hanging out with his father at the fire station.
“I kind of grew up in a firehouse, and as a little kid, I was there all the time, bringing food with my mother or just visiting after the long shifts,” said Dingler, who has also been a firefighter with the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation and the Windham Fire Department. “I kind of got the bug to become a firefighter, and it just grew from there.”
When he became old enough, he signed up to volunteer. Through volunteer service, he got all of his certifications.
While Dingler has an obvious attraction to his firefighting job, that’s not the case overall in Wallingford, or nationally. A recruiter with the department for the past four years, Dingler has noticed a decreased number of firefighter and paramedic applicants. Throughout the country, fire departments are declining in career and volunteer numbers, according to the National Fire Protection Association.
Posting on social media websites, the Wallingford Fire Department hopes it will attract new recruits.
In Wallingford, there are four fire stations. One station is half career and half volunteers, and another is made up of all volunteers.
Dingler manages the career side when it comes to recruiting. He said there are four shifts with 17 career employees.
The department is in the process of interviewing for firefighter/paramedic, firefighter/EMT, and EMS positions.
The journey to becoming a firefighter is very competitive and requires a lot of effort, according to the Commission on Fire Prevention and Control on Connecticut’s government site. A fire department can get anywhere from a few applicants to several dozen applicants at a time.
A firefighter may be a crew member who lives and works in close quarters throughout a work shift. In Connecticut, the 24-hour shift schedule is becoming more common.
Wallingford firefighters typically work on a three-days-on, four-days-off schedule. During a shift, calls for emergency services are received around the clock. There may be multiple calls at a time during a shift.
To become a career firefighter, you must first apply in the city or town that is hiring. In Connecticut, a firefighter “must be 18 years of minimum age and have an education to a high school graduate level to receive initial training,” the state site says.
Dingler said they have hired members with years of experience and even some without experience. For those with experience, training can take anywhere from two to three weeks. Members with no prior experience go to the Connecticut Fire Academy for approximately 14 weeks for training.
On Monday afternoon, firefighters could be seen at headquarters on Masonic Avenue doing a ladder drill with a 1995 bucket truck. New recruit Matthew Campion was working the truck’s controls to learn the bucket’s placement.
Campion has been with the department for just a little over two years. He is a firefighter and a paramedic. Previously, he worked with Trinity EMS in Waterbury.
“It’s been great, and I love it here,” Campion said. “It’s a great group of members we have working here, and every day I come here to work, there’s something new every single day.”
Campion said he didn’t realize that the fire service is so dynamic and that there are a lot of aspects of the job that are more than just fighting fires.
“Especially here in Wallingford, we’re a smaller department, so we kind of have to know a little bit about every different aspect of the job, whether it is firefighting, EMS, technical rescue, hazmat … there are so many different things that you need to know a little bit about and some you have to be proficient in,” Campion said.