Local News

Apex: 401 applied for 12 firefighter jobs

Posted March 23, 2009 3:01 p.m. EDT
Updated March 23, 2009 7:27 p.m. EDT

— One sign of a troubled economy was made manifest in Apex Monday, when hundreds of people lined up at Town Hall, hoping to be hired as one of 12 new firefighters.

The town received 401 applications for the new positions, posted on Feb. 18, and 260 applicants met the qualifications to take a written test, officials said. Their line wrapped around the Town Hall Monday.

"It's about time. Nobody's been hiring," said applicant James Boyd, who used to be a firefighter with the Marines.

"I really think a lot of the economic conditions are driving this," said Apex Fire Chief Mark Haraway. There are "a lot of people out of work, even in the Wake County area."

In a down economy, the relative security of a firefighting job can be attractive, Haraway said.

"Public safety, even in economic decline, is one of the last places you look to cut," the fire chief said.

Boyd said he is living paycheck-to-paycheck while working at Dick's Sporting Goods and wants more financial stability.

"It's nice to have a full-time job with a steady paycheck and not to have to worry about medical insurance and where my next meal is going to come from," Boyd said.

Ryan Bullock got a job at a tire shop after graduating from high school last year, but said he wants to carry on a family tradition. His uncles were the first two African-American firefighters in Apex, he said.

"Since I was 4, it's what I've wanted to do," Bullock said.

Apex got the funds to add 12 firefighters to its 36-strong department from a $1.3 million grant distributed in January by the federal Department of Homeland Security's Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response program, or SAFER.

The grant will pay for the firefighters' salaries and benefits for four years. The town will put up $1.3 in matching funds.

The grant requires that at least six of the successful applicants not already have firefighter training. The goal is to draw new people into the firefighting field, with minimum qualifications set at a clean driving record and an age of at least 18.

DHS gave more than $13 million in 2008 SAFER grants to 28 North Carolina municipalities, including $2.1 million for Fayetteville to hire new firefighters.

The Apex applicants still have a long road ahead to get those jobs. Those who score at least a 70 on the written test will go through three days of agility tests, followed by two interviews.

The training academy starts May 11, and the new firefighters will be on the job Sept. 11.

"I just got to beat out the guy next to me," Boyd said.