South Lee fire districts expect hiring boom in 2004
February 1, 2004

John Schaeffer's odds of becoming a Florida firefighter are improving.

When Schaeffer, 31, of Long Island, N.Y., passed the New York City fire department test, he was thrown into a pool of tens of thousands, according to his mother, Joanne Schaeffer, of Bonita Springs.

"There was 40,000 people, so they never got to him," she said.

Yet a pool of 288 candidates in Lee County, where three area fire districts are hoping to hire nearly 30 new firefighters in 2004, could increase John Schaeffer's chances although his opportunity may not come until near the end of the year.

The Estero, Bonita Springs and San Carlos Park fire districts first need new stations to house firefighters, some fire district officials said.

"Right now, we just don't have the room to house additional people," Bonita Springs district spokeswoman Debbi Redfield said.

The three districts hope to begin hiring in late 2004, closer to the time when several stations will be closer to being finished.

Officials at Estero Fire Rescue recently hired three new firefighter paramedics from a past list of candidates.

Bill Clemens, the advanced life support administrator who sits on the district's hiring committee, said that Estero Fire Rescue will have to wait several months to hire more firefighters.

"We will probably hire three more towards September," he said. "That will be for the opening of the new station toward the end of the year." The Estero fire district plans to break ground on its fourth fire station, which will be located on U.S. 41 across from the Fountain Lakes community in Estero, by the middle of February.

In San Carlos Park, Assistant Chief Ray Delo would like to hire nine firefighters in fiscal 2005.

Yet before October, the district won't be looking for many firefighters, he said.

"We are probably going to be hiring one," Delo said.

The district plans to build a new station in fiscal 2005 at the southeast corner of Three Oaks Parkway and Winged Foot Drive.

"These new firefighters we are hiring will be hired for this new station," he said.

The district also has purchased property off of Alico Road to build a fifth station about five years from now, but Delo said the district could build the station sooner depending on how the community develops.

"It really depends on the growth of the area out there," he said. "It could be sooner than we think."

The Bonita Springs fire district is planning to hire 15 new firefighters to help staff a fourth station at the intersection of Snell Lane and Bonita Grande Drive, Redfield said.

A fifth station will open within the next couple of months on South Bay Drive near U.S. 41 and Terry Street.

The district plans to build a sixth station on East Bonita Beach Road and a seventh on Hickory Boulevard within the next five years.

The Employment Testing Cooperative, a committee with the Lee County Fire Chiefs Association, sponsors testing for new candidates.

The committee, representing 12 county districts, administers a general knowledge and physical ability test.

The physical test, called the Candidate Physical Ability Test, is made up of eight challenges that must be finished within 10 minutes and 20 seconds.

For the last physical ability test, held Jan. 10 at the San Carlos Park headquarters station on Ben Hill Griffin Parkway in San Carlos Park, 195 people took the test, according to Cynthia Zinger, of the Iona-McGregor fire district.

Of those, nearly 73 percent passed, Zinger said.

The general knowledge test does not have a passing point, but scores are recorded. It is up to the district to determine whether to evaluate the score.

"Really, from what I've found so far is the actual interview process is more important than whatever score they got on the written test," Clemens said. "It's not really a fire-related test. That written test does not really test their fire knowledge."

The next testing opportunity is May 20 for the general knowledge test and May 21 for the physical ability test.

The deadline for filling out an application with the cooperative and signing up for the tests is March 13. Candidates can fill out an application online at

Once candidates take the written test and pass the physical test, they are eligible for hire.

"The individual departments will review the active list and call individuals for an interview," Zinger said.

Candidates remain on the active list for two years or until they are hired, whichever occurs first.

Yet completing the two requirements does not guarantee a candidate a job, Redfield said.

Districts can require additional testing, such as going to a Florida fire academy to become a certified Florida firefighter.

"It's really up to the fire department," she said.