Prospective Springfield firefighters will have the chance to practice the physical ability portion of the city's hiring test before being graded for real.
The opportunity is a new feature in the process to create an eligibility list the city will use for at least the next two years to hire new firefighters as needed.
The city last put together an eligibility list in 2001, when controversy arose after nearly all of the women who took the physical ability test, which includes dragging a life-sized dummy, failed it.
Representatives of the local branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People argued that many of the candidates were not prepared for the test and should have been given pre-training and more information as to what it entailed. In 2002, that request was included in a "consent decree," an official agreement between the city and the NAACP meant to help boost the number of women and minorities on the police and fire departments.
The new setup, which involves holding six ability-test practice days between now and the real test in October, should give applicants a better idea of the physical prowess needed to be a firefighter.
"A lot of people came into our physical agility test blind (in 2001)," said Capt. Mark Dyment, the fire department's recruitment coordinator. "They didn't know what to expect. The way we're going to do it now is we're going to set up the course exactly the way it's supposed to be set up. We're going to let them run it with their doctor's permission and let them see what portions they are weak at. And then we're going to help them get into the shape they need to be in to pass the entire test."
The firefighter examination process kicks off this week, when the city sends notices to those on its mailing lists and on the previous eligibility list. Advertisements in newspapers, on the Internet and elsewhere will follow.
Application packets can be picked up during business hours in the Civil Service Commission office in Room 309 of Municipal Center West, Seventh and Monroe streets. Persons who live out of state or far from Springfield can call 789-2446 to request a packet be mailed.
Applicants must be U.S. citizens, between 20 and 34 years old by Aug. 28 and have a valid driver's license. Applications must be returned to the city during the week of Aug. 16.
But there are many dates to take note of before applications are due.
To sign up for a practice written exam, applicants must call by July 6. The practice written exam will be given July 10 at the Prairie Capital Convention Center.
The first of the six physical ability pre-tests also is set for July 10 at Fire Station No. 10 at the Illinois State Fairgrounds. The other dates are July 30, Aug. 28, Sept. 10., Sept. 25 and Oct. 8.
To participate in the ability test practices, applicants must have completed a liability release form and a medical clearance form, both of which are available through the city.
The real written exam is Aug. 28 at PCCC. Those who pass that advance to the real physical test Oct. 16-17 at the fairgrounds. And those who pass that go on to an oral interview process to take place from Oct. 25 through Nov. 12.
Scores on the oral and written parts of the tests, along with veterans preference points, then are used to compute an applicant's rank on the eligibility list, which should become official by the end of the year. And when the fire department needs to hire firefighters, it will begin offering jobs from the top down. Applicants also must pass a criminal background check, psychological screening and drug tests before being considered for a job.
The list remains active for at least two years, although it could be extended for a third year.
Fire Chief Bob Bartnick said, depending on the number of retirements over the next few months, a batch of 15 or 20 likely will be hired off the list in March.
At a news conference announcing the application process Wednesday, Mayor Tim Davlin was joined by fire officials and James Johnson, the labor industry chairman for the local NAACP.
Davlin said he hopes the city's recruiting efforts, which include having fire officials visit community events and other spots around town, will get minorities and women interested in applying.
"We certainly hope that by the time the process comes to an end, and we have the test taken, that we truly have a better mix of what we think is this community," he said.
"I feel good about it now," Johnson said of the city's efforts so far. "We'll see what happens with the number of people that come out and show up."
Of the 211 uniformed officials at the fire department, five are minorities and three are women.