- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 2, 2006

D.C. fire officials have decided to test all qualified job seekers who applied during a recent solicitation period after questions were raised about irregularities in the application process.

About 2,000 job seekers — some of whom came from as far away as Florida — submitted applications March 25 for firefighting positions in the District, say city fire officials.

Many were turned away because officials at the District’s nine application-collection sites were directed to accept only 223 qualified applicants at each site.

Printed announcements stated that from that pool, the first 1,500 would be invited to take the fire department’s entrance examination in May.

But collection officials did not time-stamp the applications, so nobody could determine who the first 1,500 applicants were, said Alan Etter, spokesman for the D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department.

In response to questions from The Washington Times, Mr. Etter said that fire officials have changed their minds and that the issue of the time stamps is moot because “all of those who submitted qualified applications will be tested.”

Originally, the fire department and the D.C. Office of Personnel announced that the department would accept applications beginning at 10 a.m. at the nine locations throughout the city.

Applicants began lining up at the collection points — one in each ward and the fire-training academy in Southwest — as early as 4 p.m. the day before. At least two sites were forced to turn away applicants after they reached their quotas, while other sites did not get 223 applicants.

Mr. Etter said the idea behind using multiple collection sites was to improve access for applicants.

But applicants said the event was poorly organized and expressed concern about the potential for abuse.

One applicant said he was skeptical about a computer printout indicating the number of his place on line that was stapled to his application.

“They didn’t give you any kind of receipt,” said the applicant, who asked not to be named.

There were reports of altercations from at least one site where job seekers tried to hold places on line. Mr. Etter said two women suffered minor injuries when they were hit by a car after they submitted applications.

Some fire officials said privately that they were skeptical of the process from the beginning.

Fire Chief Adrian H. Thompson told the D.C. Council in February that beginning in January 2007, he would hire only firefighters who were paramedics or who would be trained as paramedics upon entering the department.

Some questioned whether the department could afford to dismiss one in four candidates, regardless of their skills, simply because they were not among the first 1,500 to submit an application.

The fire department collects applications and administers the exam once every two years to compile a list that determines the order in which firefighters will be hired for the next two years.

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