The District’s mayor and incoming fire chief are throwing open the doors to the fire department, offering an entrance exam that for the first time since 2008 will enable the general public to apply to become firefighters, reports The Washington Post.
Although people living anywhere are eligible, officials who announced the expanded hiring process at a news conference Friday emphasized that they are targeting District residents, who will get preferred treatment. Slightly more than a quarter of current firefighters live in the District.
“We’re looking for DC residents,” said Gregory Dean, a former chief in Seattle who will become the city’s fire chief May 1. “We’re asking you to get your sons and your daughters, your nieces and your nephews, and your neighbors, to come down and be a part of this organization. We’re looking for the best and the brightest.”
The new pledge is more than a recruitment drive. It is an effort by Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) to reform an understaffed department that has had trouble hiring and has been plagued by mismanagement, broken equipment and slow responses to emergencies. In two of those cases, a total of two patients died.
Bowser said she has included $80 million, spread over five years, in the proposed 2016 capital budget for new fire vehicles and an additional $29 million in the operations budget for new hires. There are 150 vacancies in the 1,800-member fire department, and the mayor warned of coming perils: a growing population, an increasing number of 911 calls, an aging vehicular fleet and a quarter of the department eligible to retire by 2018.
Since 2008, virtually the only way to be hired as a D.C. firefighter was to go through the high school cadet program. People with firefighting experience could also be hired, but officials said that the process was difficult and that only a few have managed to join the department in the past four years. The last test was given in 2008.
Bowser and Dean said that a new exam — which tests basic reading and math comprehension — will be given Saturday, June 13, at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. Online registration will begin May 20, and the test will be given to the first 1,500 people who sign up.
The process is open to people between the ages of 19 and 30 who have high school diplomas or equivalency degrees, pass a police background check and a physical, and meet other requirements, such as passing a drug test. Starting pay is about $48,000 a year. Those who pass will be put on a hiring list and ranked by grade; D.C. residents get an extra 10 points.
Edward Smith, head of the D.C. firefighter’s union, praised the initiative as a way to both boost hiring and broaden the pool. Noting that each academy class is limited to 30 students, Smith said those who pass the exam will be put on a list and called up as slots open.
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