Despite Recession, Fire Departments Are Hiring Recruits Statewide

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(Sacramento, CA)
Wednesday, April 22, 2009

One of the few places still hiring during the recession could be your local fire department.  This weekend firefighting agencies across California will hold job fairs to pick up new recruits.
They’re trying to attract minority applicants--especially females.

Capital Public Radio's Steve Shadley reports…

To get the word out about the job fairs…California Fire Officials held an open house at a firefighter training center in Sacramento.
(Sound Of An Axe Pounding On A Metal Pipe)
A woman dressed in a heavy training vest and fire hat pounds on a metal bar above her head.  It’s an exercise, allowing firefighters to practice swinging a big axe as if they were trying to chop a hole in a ceiling during a fire.   This is part of the physical fitness test firefighters must pass to be certified. 
Laura Hernandez is a firefighter and paramedic in Tracy.  She’s just finished the grueling obstacle course and seems barely winded… 
“It’s continuous and very physically demanding…so it’s definitely not for somebody who decides ‘oh I wanna become a firefighter today.’  I’m gonna go take this test and I’m gonna pass.   You’re probably not going to pass it on the first try…”
This training center has only been open for a year and 20-thousand recruits have trained here.  They take their certificate with them to apply at fire agencies around the state. 
California fire officials say despite the recession, some departments are having a hard time finding enough qualified applicants.   They say female and minority candidates are really hard to come by.  In fact, only five-percent of the state’s firefighters are women. 
Rose Conroy was the first female hired by the city of Davis Fire Department nearly 30 years ago… 
“I knew going in it was a different situation.  They had never worked with a female firefighter before.  I had never worked with all men before.  So, it was new to both of us and communication is key to learning where the other person’s limits are and what’s okay…what’s not okay…”  
Conroy says she’s never felt intimidated by her male colleagues.  Now, she’s the city’s fire chief.  Lou Paulson is President of California Professional Firefighters.  He says some departments have tight budgets—but there are still jobs… 
“You gotta understand that firetrucks still need firefighters.  People do retire…they get their benefits and leave.  We need to continue to fill vacancies.  So, while there may be a shrinkage in some departments… with short term staffing…in the long term we still need folks…”
If you think you have what it takes to be a firefighter you may want to check out the three job fairs.  One happens in Sacramento on Saturday.  Others take place in the city of Orange and Livermore next month.