New Cleveland first responder recruits could owe thousands if they leave before five years

Cleveland EMT, police officer and firefighter recruits have to sign a new agreement as a...
Cleveland EMT, police officer and firefighter recruits have to sign a new agreement as a condition of their hiring.(WOIO)
Published: Nov. 4, 2021 at 10:44 AM EDT
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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - First responders are at a premium, as it becomes harder and harder to recruit new police officers, firefighters and EMS crews.

Many cities are pulling out all the stops to attract and retain them.

19 Investigates found the city of Cleveland is trying to make sure they keep them when they get them.

But they’re not doing this with extra perks.

Instead, they’ve instituted what amounts to a contract.

We first told you back in September about a new policy that scared at least one Cleveland EMS recruit away.

It took us two months to get documents from the city that show the Cleveland fire and police departments have the same policy too.

Cleveland EMS was especially short-staffed earlier this year, and ambulances continue to go out of service.

The agency can’t afford to lose new recruits.

19 Investigates spoke with a local EMT back in September, just hired by the city.

She asked we disguise her identity.

She was excited about the job, until she saw an unexpected document.

She came to us asking questions about what the city calls a “cost reimbursement agreement.”

She ultimately decided not to sign it, which meant losing out on the job.

“I just found that to be quite unfair, and it is a dangerous job in itself,” she said.

19 Investigates found new this year, most first responder recruits in Cleveland have to sign these agreements to be employed by the city.

If they leave before serving five years, they could end up owing the city thousands of dollars.

We discovered police officers would owe the city up to $22,487.

EMTs would owe up to $15,678.

And firefighters would owe up to $9,410.

Every month they work there, the amount of money they would owe the city if they leave early goes down.

19 Investigates learned some local governments require first responders sign a two-year employment contract.

But crews we spoke to have never heard of a five-year commitment.

Cleveland Public Safety Director Karrie Howard explained over the summer why the city implemented the policy.

“What it says is if you come on and get our training, and you leave to go to a different jurisdiction, then you will have to pay the city back for the costs of that training. We want to recruit people, hire those folks for the long term,” Howard said at a public safety meeting on Zoom in July.

Time will tell if this new policy scares any more recruits away.

The fire union told 19 Investigates they don’t have a stance on it, since the policy is so new and hasn’t affected them yet.

We have not heard back from the police union.

CARE, the union for Cleveland EMS workers, has filed an unfair labor practice complaint.

They said the city implemented the contracts without their input and they call the policy “indentured servitude.”

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