Take Two for August 19, 2013

Thousands vie for 10 open firefighter positions in Pasadena

Silver Fire Friday - 9

Maya Sugarman/KPCC

A CalFire crew prepares to clear burned brush in the San Jacinto Mountains near Banning, Calif. More than 4,000 people are vying for one of 10 vacant spots on Pasadena's Fire Department.

Despite the dangers of battling blazes, there is no shortage of would-be firefighters. Here in Pasadena, some 4,000 people showed up Monday to take an entrance exam to join the local fire department.

A winding line of applicants formed outside the Pasadena Convention Center before the first of two testing sessions.

Oscar Casillas of Los Angeles said he's been prepping for the test for three months, and hoping to become a firefighter for many years.

"As people say, it's just a childhood dream," Casillas said. "It's a beautiful career." 

Harrowing stories about firefighters dying on the front lines have populated the news in recent months, but they made little difference to Ramon Calderon, a pharmacy technician from Pasadena who's eager for a career change.

"I'm not worried about the danger," said Calderon. "It all depends on the person and I don't do stupid stuff. "

Spokeswoman Lisa Derderian said that the department hasn't made any new hires since 2009, and needs to fill positions being vacated by retiring firefighters. Top candidates not only have the physical stamina for the job, but book smarts, too, she said.

"A lot of firefighting is not just running into burning buildings and medical care," Derderian said. "It's also the documentation and reporting, so we need to ensure that they have a solid education."

The exam results will help fire officials pare the applicant pool to about 200 people. They will undergo interviews, psychological and medical reviews and extensive background checks. Finalists are sent to a 16-week firefighting academy. 

Jason Johnson, a 34-year-old paramedic from Thousand Oaks, is anxious to become one of them. 

"I've been trying for 10 years to become a firefighter," Johnson said. "I've done everything — a medic, paramedic, I volunteer at a fire department."

Derderian said she wasn't surprised by the robust turnout Monday.  Pasadena's department is in-demand, she said, because its firefighters are well-respected and get to cover high-profile events such as the Rose Bowl game, the Rose Bowl parade, and UCLA football games. 


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