ROCKLAND — The city’s fire chief said the Rockland Fire and Emergency Medical Services department has been brought into a competitive playing field with other units across the state.

He credited the overwhelming support of citizens and the city leadership to allow the department to hire three new positions and create a fourth shift. The additional shift allows the department to adjust the work schedules for firefighters and EMS crew members starting Monday, Jan. 2.

The department is fully staffed. He said the department has spent the past six months hiring, training, promoting and drafting guidance to bring the project to a successful start.

“We have now brought Rockland Fire and EMS into a competitive playing field with the rest of the state’s fire and EMS departments. Our old work schedule of 56 hours wasn’t appealing or conducive to potential new employees,” Chief Chris Whytock said. “We were one of a shrinking number of departments still working the 56-hour week while most others were working a 42-hour schedule. We were going to be obsolete within a few years to any new fire/EMS employee looking for a career in emergency services.”

The chief said not only was Rockland’s schedule unappealing, its hourly rate for new and seasoned employees was far less than most others.

“By decreasing our weekly hours worked, we increased the hourly rate of our employees without adding money in our weekly pay. This too brought us into a competitive area with other fire and EMS departments,” he said.

The next big projects within the work force will be paramedic training for most of the new employees.

“The problem here is a paramedic program takes anywhere from 12-18 months to complete. But we will get there,” Whytock said.

“So as of today, all our members are cross trained for both fire and EMS. We are so fortunate to have the support of our citizens and this move will make their department stronger and competitive for years to come. We will continue to evolve and provide the top notch fire and EMS coverage that we are known for,” he said.

The chief had lobbied for the additional shift during last year’s budget deliberations and that was strongly supported by the City Council.

The change was estimated to add about $260,000 to the 2022-2023 municipal budget. The 2022-2023 fire department budget was approved at nearly $2.6 million.