By Joe Beck - firstname.lastname@example.org
FRONT ROYAL - The Warren County Fire and Rescue Service is closer to hiring five new career firefighters after the last of 23 participating recruits finished written and physical agility tests on Thursday.
The testing concluded at the Front Royal fire station on North Commerce Avenue with the last of the recruits scaling a 105-foot ladder atop one of the department's trucks. When the results were tallied, only 10 of the 23 recruits passed. The survivors, all of them men, advance to an interview that will be the final stage in determining whether they will be joining the ranks of the department's 20 full-time or 10 part-time firefighters.
Gerry R. Maiatico, the department's fire marshal, said the rigorous testing program, now in its fifth year, has improved hiring decisions and made it easier to retain higher quality recruits after they join the department.
"We decided on a process like this to test their skills, knowledge and abilities to make sure we're getting a quality candidate," Maiatico said.
The deterioration in the economy a few years ago increased the number of applicants for full-time firefighter jobs, thereby spurring the department to develop "another tool to help us in the selection process," Maiatico said.
The written test by its nature is always a bit of a mystery before recruits sit down to take it, but the physical agility segment is easily seen and understood well before it begins. The recruits must move through a six-station course that includes swinging an axe 30 times, scrambling up and down a fire escape carrying a coiled hose and 85 pounds of equipment with them, and dragging a dummy over part of the parking lot in the back of the fire station.
A passing score requires the recruit to finish the course in 5 minutes and 30 seconds. After a cooling off and recovery period, each recruit is then required to scale the105-foot fire truck ladder tilted at a 70-degree angle.
While the test is supposed to measure physical agility, the sight of recruits doubled over gasping for breath or stretched out in exhaustion on the pavement after completing the course left little doubt that strength and endurance also counted for a lot.
"It's all firefighter competency, all things they have to do," Maiatico said.
Maiatico said most of the recruits are either already full-time firefighters from other jurisdictions or part-timers looking to move to full-time career status. Many also are already volunteers with the Warren County department.
Maiatico said those who already have full-time jobs with other departments are looking for part-time work in Warren County on their days off.
Maiatico said the department does not take civilian applicants off the street because it lacks the time and money to include an extended, elaborate training curriculum as part of its hiring process. Some of the bigger departments in Northern Virginia provide a 22-week candidate recruit school, but Warren County needs those who have already gained basic firefighting skills as volunteers in its own department or as members in other communities.
As for those who don't make the cut, the testing can also be helpful to them, Maiatico said.
"It's a way for them to set a level of standards for themselves," he said. "It lets them know what their strengths and weaknesses are."