Firefighter class to start on schedule

Delay from test glitch minor, officials say

January 21, 2001|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,SUN STAFF

A glitch that put off testing applicants for the Anne Arundel County Fire Department delayed the process of hiring much-needed personnel by a few weeks, but it won't postpone the start of the next training academy class in May as some had feared.

"It only delayed the process by a few weeks beyond where they would have been," said county spokesman John A. Morris.

There had been concern by firefighters that the test would have to be readministered and could postpone the start of the next training academy. But the next academy class is on target to begin in May, officials said.

About 100 applicants were not notified to attend the general aptitude exam given Oct. 7, Morris confirmed.

The notifications were returned to the county personnel office by the U.S. Postal Service because the addresses were unreadable, Morris said. There was an error in printing the addresses, he said.

Those applicants were able to take the test Nov. 17. Sixty candidates took the test then - more than a month after 569 other applicants had.

County officials say fairness was not compromised because the exam, consisting of 80 multiple-choice questions, is designed to test basic reading-comprehension and math skills.

"They can read [the] material and answer or they can't," said Morris. "It's not like a promotional exam where you have to have specific knowledge of certain subjects. This is to make sure applicants can read and comprehend the training manuals."

The 2 1/2 -hour test has remained unchanged since 1990, Morris said.

It is similar to the tests given to entry-level police, detention officer and deputy sheriff candidates. Applicants for clerical positions are also given an aptitude exam, said Morris.

"Each one is tailored to look at a slightly different skill set," he said.

A panel of county personnel and fire officials are preparing to begin interviewing 534 Fire Department applicants who passed the tests. The county also checks the backgrounds of applicants.

The Fire Department had been understaffed to the point where overtime was becoming mandatory, and some firefighters were asked last year to delay vacations. The shortage of paramedics was especially severe, fire officials said. More than 30 vacancies existed for the highly skilled positions.

But 21 paramedics are completing on-the-job training and will graduate with a class of about 33 firefighters and begin work early next month, fire officials said.

"They've already relieved a lot of the shortages," said Keith W. Wright, president of the Anne Arundel County Professional Firefighters Local 1563, the union that represents the fire personnel. "We've made a big dent in the vacancies."

But the department still has at least 20 vacancies, said Fire Division Chief John M. Scholz, a department spokesman.

"It could be more by the time the class forms," Scholz said. "There are always people retiring and transferring."

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