Testing many, hiring the best

Published 12:08 pm Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Contributing Editor

When Robbie Rose, Washington’s fire chief, began advertising for prospective firefighters earlier this summer, he expected a good response.
At least 73 people applied for the four firefighter/EMT positions the Washington Fire-Rescue-EMS Department is trying to fill, Rose said Monday. The positions became vacant as the result of three firefighters/EMTs resigning to perform similar work in Afghanistan and the retirement of Capt. Scottie Taylor earlier this year.
“It did,” replied Rose when asked if the number of applicants surprised him. “It’s a large number of people.”
Rose attributes the number of applicants, in part, to the high unemployment rate in the area. In Beaufort County alone, the unemployment rate has been at or above 10 percent during the past 18 months.
Of the 73 applicants, 47 participated in physical-agility test given at the department’s Station No. 2 last week.
“Everyone out of the 47 was able to pass, except one,” Rose said.
Applicants were interviewed Monday, with other interviews continuing today, Rose said.
The starting annual salary for a newly hired firefighter/EMT who has basic EMT and firefighter II certifications is $29,041, according to Susan Hodges, Washington’s human-resources director.
“We’re going to make offers within two weeks. … We’ve got a good pool of applicants,” Rose said.
The four applicants who receive conditional offers of employment will be sent to a facility in Cary for psychological testing, said Mark Yates, a division chief with the department.
The physical-agility test is designed to evaluate an applicant’s ability to perform tasks, which have been identified on the basis of importance and frequency, to be critical to serving as a firefighter. The test is a pass/fail test, which is timed. There are penalties given for not meeting specified requirements and/or standards.
The test includes the following exercises:
• Citizen’s assist — The primary function of the fire service is rescue. This exercise tests the candidate’s ability to move a simulated victim from a structure. The candidate positions himself or herself behind the 165-pound rescue dummy and drags it 100 feet by one of two methods. Once the rescue dummy is lifted, it must be moved backward 100 feet across a finish line. The event will end when the dummy’s feet crosses the finish line.
• Ladder climb — The candidate will be asked to climb a 50-foot section of the ladder truck. The section will be placed at a 60-degree angle. As the candidate reaches and enters the platform, he/she will lock his or her ladder belt in, then turn and make eye contact with the ladder operator at the base of the ladder. The ladder will be extended to 100 feet at the same 60-degree angle. The candidate will then make eye contact with the ladder operator at the base of the ladder and then be brought down and asked to exit the platform.
• Ventilation — Often, fire-suppression personnel are required to use a striking tool for forcible entry and ventilation of a building. The candidate will stand on a simulated roof and, using a sledge hammer, strike a target plate 40 times. The plate must be struck with a forceful action similar to venting a roof.
• Hose advance — During training and fire-ground operations, firefighters are required to advance hose lines. The candidate will be asked to advance a 1-3/4-inched charged hose line 100 feet to predetermined finish line.
• High-rise carry — Often during training and emergencies, firefighters are required to carry equipment up stairs. This exercise simulates a firefighter having to carry a fire hose to the upper stories of a multi-story building. The candidate carries a high-rise pack on his/her shoulder up and down the stairway at Station No. 2 three times. The candidate shall precede one step at a time and no running is allowed. A three-second rest at the top and bottom of the stairs is allowed with no penalty.
• Smoke maze — This consists of a maze in which the participant will be required to navigate from start to finish while wearing a blacked-out self-contained-breathing-apparatus face shield. This event effectively creates a blindfold situation that will determine the candidate’s ability to negotiate his/her way through a smoke-filled room with limited or no visibility while maintaining composure and an appropriate state of mind.