The Menlo Park Fire District hired 20 firefighters and firefighter paramedics this year, marking "the largest, single most aggressive hiring effort since at least the 1980s, if ever," Fire Chief Harold Schapelhouman said Wednesday.
Nine of the new firefighters graduated from the San Mateo County Fire Academy this week and will soon be assigned to one of the stations in the district, which includes Atherton, East Palo Alto, Menlo Park and nearby unincorporated areas.
Fire District officials held off on hiring new employees during the economic recession, Chief Schapelhouman said.
The hirings bring the district's total force of captains, engineers and firefighters to about 88, he said.
"We've been working hard to catch up to where we needed to be on staffing by hiring the best qualified individuals we could find for this organization," he said in a statement.
"So far, I'm very happy with how everyone is stepping up, and the energy and excitement of new personnel who just feel proud and privileged to work here," he said.
The fire district spends about $4,100 on the hiring process for each candidate, including $1,402 for entry-level fire academy, $975 background checks and $900 on medical and physiological exams.
The district provides fire academy graduates with $12,353 in safety equipment, including uniforms, wildland firefighting equipment and breathing equipment, he said.
The starting salary for a Menlo Park firefighter is $173,779 with benefits, and $186,747 for a firefighter-paramedic.
The district's turnover rate is less than 1 percent, Chief Schapelhouman said, adding that most firefighters serve in the district for at least 30 years.