The Big Wait : 2,000 Line Up to Apply for 7 Firefighter Jobs

Times Staff Writer

They came in cars, trucks and campers, and some of them made the Anaheim Stadium parking lot their home for three days.

Many said they had rolled out foam pads and slept on the wide walkway to the stadium's main entrance to hold their places in line.

It wasn't tickets to a rock concert or a playoff game that these people were seeking, however. The members of this crowd of more than 2,000 were all hoping for a chance to become an Orange County firefighter.

And many realized, even before the really long lines formed Tuesday morning, that they were bucking very long odds.

There were just seven jobs to be filled, with a prospect of 25 to 40 openings over the next two years, officials said. Even if all 40 jobs were to materialize, the applicants waiting in Tuesday morning's line faced worse than 50-1 odds that they'd land one of them.

But that didn't seem to daunt most of those who lined the curved stadium sidewalk, many displaying the insignia of firefighting units, as far away as Detroit and as near as El Toro, on their hats and T-shirts.

Getting Application Forms

They were there only to fill out applications to take a written test. Those who scored would still face oral and physical examinations and other screening.

It was a young, mostly male, and very healthy-looking assemblage, and many of the prospects already had education or experience in the field. They talked of a desire to do public service and the comradeship of the firehouse. They also talked of the days off at the end of each 24-hour shift (the work week is 56 hours), the benefits, and the $22,464-a-year starting salary.

"I'm just not the 9-to-5 girl," said Sheri Calloway, 20, of Huntington Beach, who has been working as a waitress while studying fire science at Santa Ana College.

Seated with four male applicants, Calloway said she thought her sex might work to her advantage. The Fire Department flyer advertising the openings had encouraged applications from women and minorities.

But Joan Wilson, the department's manager of personnel services, said there could be no edge for any group because the department is an equal-opportunity employer.

Biggest Crowd Yet

Wilson said Tuesday's group of applicants was the largest yet to show up for the biennial sign-up. Department veterans said they could remember small lines of just a few hundred people as recently as 10 years ago.

As it turned out, there was no advantage in coming early. The department had 2,500 applications Tuesday, and by the time the line was gone, at 10:47 a.m., just over 2,000 forms had been handed out. That meant that anyone who arrived at 10:48 a.m. could have walked right up, grabbed an application, and entered the pool on an equal footing with the 500 candidates who had been in line since Monday night.

In the large crowd, some strove mightily to distinguish themselves.

Dozens of applicants brought portable typewriters to fill out their applications. Some said it was because their handwriting was bad, but there were other reasons.

"I've been here since yesterday morning," said Greg Ryan, 26, of Laguna Hills, who brought along a typewriter. "And I'm not going to get beat out by someone who can pencil-scratch."

Office on Wheels

Among the more creative types was a trio of young Huntington Beach reserve firefighters, who hooked three portable electric typewriters to a generator in the back of their van.

One of them, 21-year-old Jeff Hughes, said he and his friends were typing out the forms "to set ourselves apart from the 2,500 guys out there with pencils."

But Hughes worried that a firefighter might frown on a potential fire hazard in their arrangement: All three typewriters were plugged into the same extension cord.

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