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Prince George's County Fire Department to hire nearly 100 firefighters

More than 1,270 applicants show up for first-round tests

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Photo by Jim Davis. Of the 3,000 applicants for the 94 available slots with the Prince George’s County Fire/EMS Department, 1,271 hopefuls filled  round tables at Martin’s Crosswinds last Tuesday and Wednesday for the first-round, written exam.

Photo by Jim Davis. Of the 3,000 applicants for the 94 available slots with the Prince George’s County Fire/EMS Department, 1,271 hopefuls filled round tables at Martin’s Crosswinds last Tuesday and Wednesday for the first-round, written exam.

Published on: Wednesday, August 18, 2010

By Kerry Davis

With an hour to go before the doors opened at a firefighters testing event last Wednesday, the line of hopefuls already snaked around the corner and alongside the building at Martin’s Crosswinds in Greenbelt.

“I’m laid-off right now from my full-time job, so I understand why people are in this line,” said Frank Dolina, 31, a volunteer firefighter from Huntingtown.

An “unprecedented” 3,000 people applied for 94 new county firefighter jobs. The deadline to apply was June 18, and all applicants were invited to take the first round, written test portion of the application process in Greenbelt last week. Of those applicants, 1,271 took the test on either Tuesday or Wednesday. 

Officials say the quantity of applicants stems from having a long hiring freeze during the economic downturn.

“We just hired a (emergency) class in June, but before that, it was about two and a half years (since the last class of firefighters was hired),” said Lt. Col. Angela Peden, of Prince George’s County Fire/EMS Department.

In July, the county received a Department of Homeland Security “SAFER” Grant, ear-marked to hire 24 fire department employees, while the county government approved funding for an additional 70.

All 94 new hires will graduate next year, after they get through the initial testing, interviews, training and physical-agility testing.

And from the looks of testing day, there will be plenty  of applicants to chose from.

“I enjoy helping the sick and injured, and I’ve been a volunteer for about 24 years, since I was 14,” said Chris Shawen, of Salisbury.

Shawen, a 38-year-old medic, just passed his EMT intermediate test.

“That helps a lot,” said Mark Brady, PGFD spokesman. “Once they get down to the nitty-gritty, they start looking at that area and what makes them experienced.”

But first, the hundreds of men and women who showed up for initial testing have to pass a 136-question exam on reading, math, writing, comprehension and personality. The potential hires also had to fill out a background investigation sheet, which asked questions about past drug use, arrests and whether they had any tattoos ever photographed by police.

The personality questions and background checks can weed out a lot of people, Brady said.

“It takes (a) strong physical, emotional and an intellectually capable person to do the job and a good moral background,” Brady said.

Fire officials are thrilled to begin hiring again, since the department is still rebounding from a dip in the number of full-time firefighters. The internal goal is to stay above 685 employees. Before the recent emergency graduate class joined, the number of firefighters was as low as 654, Peden said. Now, it is just above that threshold, sitting at 688 fire and EMS employees.

The drop in personnel kept a lot of full-time employees working over-time, and the department relied on volunteer firefighters to fill the gaps, said Fire Chief Eugene Jones.

“The more volunteers we have, the less pressure on them (full-time employees),” he said.

Jones is glad the department won’t have to rely on volunteers quite so heavily for much longer, once the class of 94 graduates.

Some applicants said they have been trying to get an emergency responder job in the metro area for years. “I’ve been trying to put my foot in anywhere I can, with the economy being the way it is, it’s been hard,” said Jason Crowe, 24, from Germantown. “It’s been about a year of applying.”

The starting salary for a PGFD firefighter is $40,848.

As the fire department’s hiring gets underway, PGFD will open the St. Joseph’s Community Fire Station and EMS Aug. 31. The opening of St. Joseph’s will also mark the closure of the Tuxedo-Cheverly station, as the equipment from Tuxedo-Cheverly will be used at St. Joseph’s.

Brady said the department plans to re-open the Tuxedo-Cheverly station on a low-staff level once the new class of firefighters graduates next year.

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