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 [email protected] or 530-747-8057. Follow him on Twitter at @TomSakash