NAUGATUCK — T.J. Hawks had taken a dozen written tests in 18 months, hoping to land a spot with a career fire department, before he learned of an opening for a firefighter in his hometown.
“Once Naugatuck came on, I told my wife this is it, I’m not taking any more,” said Hawks, 36, who lives on Ash Road.
Hawks lived up to his word, but with a happy ending. Out of 469 candidates who sat for a written test last month, the Naugatuck Fire Department offered Hawks the job.
Hawks, a Derby native who has lived in the borough for the past 11 years, started a one-week orientation Tuesday at the fire department’s Maple Street headquarters. He will then go through training at the Connecticut Fire Academy, graduating in December. After more field training in the borough, he will start as a fully-fledged firefighter in January, Fire Chief Ken Hanks said.
After becoming a volunteer firefighter in Derby at age 16, Hawks took a job as a security officer for Sikorsky Aircraft Corp. in Stratford 11 years ago when his family began to grow. He and his wife have four children between the ages of 2 and 15.
Hawks said he never lost his love for firefighting, which runs in his blood. His father, grandfather and uncle were all volunteer firefighters in Derby.
He was first on the list of 16 possible hires, culled from 28 candidates the fire commission interviewed based on their written test scores, Hanks said.
Hawks said he felt “complete shock” when the fire commission called to offer him the job.
Hanks said the department was looking for firefighters who are invested in the community. About half of the firefighters live in the borough, like Hawks.
“He showed responsibility, maturity, knows what the job’s about,” Hanks said.
The fire department has been casting a wider net in its recruitment, hoping to attract a greater number of qualified female and minority candidates. Hanks said a woman was ranked sixth or seventh on the list, which the department will use for hiring over the next two years. The list contains two more women and one multiracial candidate.
“We’ve never interviewed any women for this job before,” Hanks said.
At least two more firefighters are expected to retire in January, Hanks said. The department as a whole contains a large number of veterans close to retirement, he said.
“We’re glad to have T.J. aboard,” Hanks said. “We think he’ll be a good asset to the department.”