NAUGATUCK — The line stretched around City Hill Middle School Sunday afternoon as prospective firefighters shuffled into the cafeteria to take a written test in hopes of landing a full-time job with the Naugatuck Fire Department.
“It’s a good paying job. It’s protecting the public and community. I think it’s the best job out there,” said Matthew Gregg, a volunteer firefighter of 11 years hoping to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps.
Competing against 712 applicants, Gregg’s chances are slim, but that didn’t deter him.
“I’m pretty sure everyone in this line is worth it. It’s the nature of the beast. It’s a competitive test,” Gregg said.
The Fire Commission will interview the top 30 to 40 test-takers, Fire Chief Ken Hanks said, and hire one applicant to replace retiring firefighter Thomas Foley in the next few weeks. Hanks said he expects to hire another eight to 10 of the other top contenders in the next two years before this test expires.
The test consisted of two parts, a 45-minute mechanical aptitude test and a two-and-a-half-hour general knowledge test. Neither test required any special knowledge of firefighting.
“We do get people who are absolutely brilliant, but they don’t know which end of a screwdriver to pick up,” Hanks said.
Steven Magro, 22, a volunteer firefighter in Coventry, said his background in theater design made the first half of the test easy.
“I fit the bill pretty well. All I need is a chance,” he said.
Besides good test scores, Hanks said he’s looking for maturity, work history and commitment to the town and department.
“We can train someone to be a firefighter. You can’t train good work ethic,” Hanks said.
He said the job is interesting and stable, with good pay and benefits, although it means working nights, holidays and weekends. The starting salary for a borough firefighter is nearly $48,000.
“It’s definitely an adrenaline rush,” Hanks said.
Hanks said this test drew by far the most applicants the department has ever seen as well as the most diverse. Of 712 who signed up, 27 were women and 121 were minorities. The last time Naugatuck administered a written test, 130 candidates applied including two women, Hanks said.
Tanya King, 24, a volunteer firefighter in Woodbury for the past two years, said the male-dominated field may be intimidating to some women.
“I think if more women gave it a shot, they’d actually really like it,” King said.
She said she enjoys the camaraderie as well as saving people and the things that are important to them. She said firefighting has made her a better person as she learned to trust her “brothers” and stay in shape.
Like King, most of the applicants appeared to be in their 20s or 30s. Applicants hailed from as far as Missouri, South Carolina, Florida, New York and New Jersey, Hanks said.
Applicants paid $30 to take the test. Hanks said the “reasonable” fee deters candidates who aren’t serious about the job.
Hanks said the department opened the application up for one month, dropped requirements for Emergency Medical Technician certifications and allowed candidates to take a state-administrated physical aptitude test after the written test.