Santa Claus isn’t the only one making a list and checking it twice this year.
Capital City Fire and Rescue is in the final phases of creating a ‘firefighters to hire’ list to last for the next two years.
“This is something we do every two years, create a two-year hiring list,” CCFR Fire Training Officer Nathan Young said. “During that time, we have openings — people retire, they move, initial positions are created. We pull off this list (to fill positions).”
Making the list isn’t easy. For starters, aspiring career CCFR firefighters must be invited to attend a four-day elimination testing process at the Hagevig Regional Fire Training, and they face fierce competition to get there.
This year, of all who applied only 31 were accepted, Young said. He noted that the number of out-of-state applicants was up compared to years past, an indication that the economic downturn left some career firefighters across the nation jobless.
“It’s people looking for jobs,” Young said. “Because of the decline in the economy and the decline in tax revenue, a lot of Lower 48 departments are laying off literally hundreds of firefighters, and so the job market is flooded,” he said. “And that’s kind of why we’re seeing so many out-of-state folks. Typically we see a few, but not the numbers that we’re seeing this time around.”
Some of the 31 that were invited hailed from Alaska, New York City, Michigan, Texas and states in the Pacific Northwest.
Thirty were male, one female.
Another subset of applicants are volunteer firefighters looking for a chance to become paid staff, like Shaun Rhea, 29. Rea, originally from Sitka, has been a volunteer and seasonal fire fighter with CCF&R for the past two years.
“The job would be exciting,” he said. “It’s nice to know you’re doing something positive.”
Getting invited is tough. Sometimes making the trip to and from Juneau is tough — CCF&R does not pay for invited applicants’ transportation, lodging or food. Only 20 of the chosen 31 showed up Monday.
Passing the four days of testing is even tougher.
The firefighters, who already hold their certification in fire fighting and emergency medical care, must pass written examinations, physical agility tests and interview panels to become one of the lucky few chosen for the short list. Last year’s list only held seven or eight names, Young said.
After three written examinations on job-related knowledge on Monday, just eight firefighters remained.
Tuesday began the physical agility test, which was broken down into seven stations at the Regional Fire Training center off Sherwood Lane. If they fail just one of the seven stations — which includes climbing a 75-foot ladder at a 70-degree angle, running through a pitch-black hamster maze in a confined space in the training center, dragging a 165-pound dead weight mannequin 100 feet and advancing a charged hose line 75 feet, hitting a target with the water stream that comes out at 150 pounds per square inch — they’re gone.
None of the stations are timed, but the potential hires can’t pause to rest.
“They can’t stop at any time,” Young said. “There’s pauses at stations to get set up, put on a safety belt, or something like that, but they can’t stop to take a rest. It’s continuous motion.”
Each of the exercises simulates some sort of aspect involved with firefighting, Young explained. For instance, the ladder climb makes sure none of the applicants are fearful of heights, and the hamster maze ensures no one is claustrophobic.
“It was a great test, and it was definitely challenging,” Brendan Lovett, 25, of Brooklyn, N.Y., said after finishing the agility test. Lovett is a paid EMT with the New York City Fire Department and hopes to move to Juneau, where he has family.
It was too early to determine how many firefighters made the cut after Tuesday’s round of tests, but that number would be known later this week, Young said.
Drew Young, 27, from Bellingham, Wash., said the tests so far were what he expected, but that a lot is riding on it. Young applied to be a fire medic with CCF&R after recently finishing medical school.
“It’s what I’ve been training for for six years,” he said.
CCF&R is currently staffed at full capacity with 33 paid career firefighters (plus four additional seasonal firefighters for the summertime), seven chief officers and 50 to 60 volunteers.
• Contact reporter Emily Russo Miller at 523-2263 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.