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YOLO COUNTY NEWS
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Hundreds brave elements for chance at firefighter job

FirefighterJob1w

Paul Kang, right, and B.J. Scoggins pass the time while waiting in line early Tuesday morning outside the Veterans' Memorial Center for the chance to apply for a job with the Davis Fire Department. Job seekers began lining up as early as 5 a.m. Monday. Sue Cockrell/Enterprise photo

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From page A1 | December 11, 2013 | 10 Comments

Suffering through frigid temperatures while waiting in long lines at odd hours this time of year is normally reserved for those willing to brave chaotic shopping sprees.

But the men and the handful of women who were lined up outside the Veterans’ Memorial Center, 203 E. 14th St., Tuesday morning weren’t looking for a great deal on a TV. They were looking for a job with the city’s Fire Department.

“I came here for this, so I don’t mind waiting if I’ve got to wait all day,” said Dariuss Rodriguez, a prospective firefighter from Fresno who arrived Tuesday just after 5 a.m. “If people could wait three hours for Black Friday, why can’t I wait three hours for a career I’m trying to get into?”

Rodriguez, however, will be lucky if he actually gets a shot at this job.

Nearly 300 individuals came looking for a spot on the city’s fire service this time around, and some began lining up not at 5 a.m Tuesday, like Rodriguez, but at 5 a.m. Monday, more than 24 hours earlier.

Because the city posted the call for applications with a caveat that only the first 125 applicants would be considered, those interested figured they’d better show up early.

So, on Monday, a full day before the city said applications were due, folks arrived with sleeping bags, changes of clothes, heaters, food and toothpaste in tow, ready to endure the long day and cold night ahead.

For a firefighter looking for work, waiting in line just to be considered for a job among hundreds of other candidates seems to come with the territory these days.

“This is the first one I’ve had to camp out for,” said Brandon Baird, who arrived at 9 p.m. Monday and was the 100th person in line. “I’ve been to a couple of others, but usually you just show up, take the test and leave. (There have been) big lines, yes, but not camping out or anything.”

With temperatures expected to bottom out in the low 20s overnight, Davis police came by and opened the Vets’ Center late Monday, and many of the applicants were able to stay warm and sleep inside.

By 6:30 a.m. Tuesday, hundreds of very sleepy-looking people, some in suits and ties, others in fire department apparel from former employers, sat or lay throughout the various rooms of the Vets’ Center.

The first 125 in line were called and processed by officials who would check if each had brought their Firefighter 1, EMT 1 and firefighter physical agility certificates.

Those assigned numbers after 125, like Rodriguez, were lined up back outside in the cold, many hoping that some of the applicants in front of them either had left early or didn’t produce the proper paperwork.

News had traveled to the back of the line, then, that a few individuals had dropped out.

“I guess I still got a shot,” Rodriguez said, waiting to see if he’d make it into the final 125.

The city accepts only 125 applications, according to Melissa Chaney, the city’s human resources director, because of the cost associated with testing the hopeful firefighters.

Chaney says it will cost the city $1,500, without staff time, to test everyone.

“If we opened it up like any (job with the city), we would have so many applications it would be nearly impossible to process them,” she said.

Chaney also said that requiring job seekers to present themselves in person also helps control the number of applications.

“The competition is so stiff to be a firefighter,” Chaney added. “If we took (applications) online and didn’t make them show up, we would have applications from all over the place.”

Davis firefighters earn $93,000 in annual salary and $91,300 in benefits, but the City Council is looking to dramatically reduce their take-home pay through labor negotiations.

Of the 125 accepted applicants, Chaney estimates about 85 percent will pass the initial written test, which they took Tuesday — many of whom did so after spending the night on-site.

Those who pass the test must then navigate several rounds of interviews that will span several months.

Meanwhile, this entire process establishes a list of potential candidates who will be considered only if any current firefighters leave the department or retire. There are no open positions at the Davis Fire Department.

Justin Tan, who arrived at about 7 p.m. Monday from Citrus Heights, is trying to follow in his brother’s footsteps of becoming a firefighter. To him, despite the bleak chances of success, chasing that dream is worth it.

“You don’t know if you might get that dream job, right? That dream career,” Tan said.

— Reach Tom Sakash at tsakash@davisenterprise.net or 530-747-8057. Follow him on Twitter at @TomSakash

Tom Sakash

Tom Sakash covers the city beat for The Davis Enterprise. Reach him at tsakash@davisenterprise.net, (530) 747-8057 or @TomSakash.
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Discussion | 10 comments

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  • Rich RifkinDecember 10, 2013 - 7:52 pm

    Last night, I spoke with some of the applicants at the front and back of the line. There were around 130 or so there when I left at 9:30 pm--it was 33 degrees and the police were just about to open the VMC then. One of the guys near the front told me that, if Davis had not had the 125 cut-off, there would have been no reason for so many people to come so early. But, he said, if they had no cut-off, then 3,000 people would have applied. The cruel irony is that it is not clear any of these people will be hired. Obviously, if the City of Davis cut the firefighters total compensation in half, the DFD would still attract almost all of these applicants. UCD has no trouble attracting candidates for its fire department. And UCD pays much less (in benefits) than the City pays. As it is now, the DFD is woefully understaffed, even if the City says there are no job openings. Because of the understaffing, our current firefighters are working a lot of overtime shifts every month. And that gets even worse when they have to go on mutual aid calls or (rarer) strike teams out of the area. Yet, because of the cost of the benefits, it's apparently cheaper to pay time and one half than it is to hire someone new. That's yet another sign our DFD compensation is out of whack.

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  • December 11, 2013 - 12:53 am

    Any idea on how many show up to the police officer testing?

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  • Rich RifkinDecember 11, 2013 - 10:25 am

    "Any idea on how many show up to the police officer testing?" …….. I don't know how it is now. However, on Monday night, when I went to talk to the firefighter applicants at the VMC, I parked next to a police officer, who was the supervisor in charge. (He was the one who had decided to open up the building, out of compassion, given the extremely cold weather.) I asked him if it was like this--meaning hundreds lining up, when he applied to join the Davis PD. He told me it was not. He said 8 people had applied when he was hired in 2002. I suspect, though, that it's not fair to compare 2002 with 2013. The difference is that, because of the poor economy since 2008, and because the compensation for public safety jobs, including police, has gone up so dramatically in the last 15 years, local agencies all over California have not been hiring, and many have been laying off capable employees. As a result of that, there is now a huge imbalance between the supply of people who are qualified and want to work as cops or firefighters and the demand of public agencies to hire them. That imbalance was not in place in 2002.

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  • December 11, 2013 - 5:59 am

    This should be a wakeup call to our current firefighters and their union to get to the negatiating table and take the needed cuts for the city. If not you can be easily replaced.

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  • Albert CastroDecember 11, 2013 - 9:58 am

    It reminds me of the black and white photos I've seen of the 1930's era of the Great Depression of men and women standing in long lines waiting at a shot of getting a job in order to feed their families. Here we are in the year 2013 and we see the same thing. Such a sad state of affairs. What's worse is that the City of Davis, the affluent, liberal, progressive, site of one of the most prestigious universities in the nation, allow these young men and women to stand under those deplorable conditions. Shame on you City of Davis.

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  • December 11, 2013 - 10:34 am

    "Shame on you City of Davis." ……. I agree with Albert's comment. The structure of the hiring process is needlessly cruel--forcing so many people to queue up for 40 or more hours, out in the cold. This result was entirely predictable. In fact, a few weeks ago, when I saw that the city was going to accept applications in this manner, I predicted it--and advised the editors of The Enterprise to cover the story, as they have done here. …….. My feeling is that a much more humane process would have been to have a short window--say a week or 10 days--in which prospective candidates could have mailed in their applications and proof of their background qualifications. And then, out of that pool, the City could have randomly selected 100 or so people, and invited them to show up at a specified time and date for an interview or other testing. Doing that would not have cost the City any extra money. And it would have been far easier on the applicants--many of whom drove hundreds of miles to wait in the VMC line for this opportunity.

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  • Rich RifkinDecember 11, 2013 - 10:35 am

    The 10:34 am comment above was mine. I mistakenly hit enter before typing in my name.

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  • RyanDecember 11, 2013 - 4:41 pm

    That is what most fire departments do when they have a cap on the number of applicants that can take the written test. Santa Clara County just accepted close to 10,000 applicants and then selected at random drawing candidates to take the written test. This also makes the pool of qualified applicants a LOT larger! This process is outdated and has been so for quite some time.

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  • RyanDecember 11, 2013 - 4:45 pm

    I'm sure this idea would have been suggested if ANYONE from the fire department was consulted prior to the city posting the announcement.

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  • ThomasDecember 11, 2013 - 6:17 pm

    The police doesn't pull the same numbers as the fire for the reason the police are always on an open recruitment so therefore there is never a wave of applicants. The turnover rate for the police department is pretty high. Davis police department has always seemed to be a stepping stone for a lot of the cops. A few years back there was a lot of them who left for Elk Grove and other cities for better pay and benefits. Wait and see, if the benefits drop along with salary you will soon see the same thing with fire. Davis is not what it use to be. Cutting positions in all of its city labor just to contract the same job to outside agency. We will soon see a lot of employees jumping ship.

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