For the first time in five years, the St. Paul Fire Department is opening up its entry-level firefighting ranks to new applicants.
City officials, who plan to announce details of the hiring process today, said they would launch an aggressive drive to attract top-notch female and minority candidates. Of the department's 390 firefighting personnel and paramedics, 18 are female and 71 are racial minorities.
"We are really trying to hit it hard with recruiting," said Angela Nalezny, the city's personnel director.
Officials expect thousands of hopefuls to apply. In 1999, the last time the department hung out a "Help Wanted" sign, more than 1,700 people stepped forward.
"We don't know how many we'll get this time," Nalezny said. "We could have 4,000 applications. We could get 1,700 like last time."
Applicants must be at least 18 years old and have a high school degree or general equivalency diploma. They also must earn an emergency medical technician certificate by the time they're hired.
Anyone who meets those criteria qualifies to take a written exam. The test covers reading comprehension, basic math and situational judgment, as well as a personality profile. Those who score 75 percent or higher qualify to take a physical exam.
The physical test could become a source of controversy. During the 1999 hiring process, after several female applicants complained that the instructions were confusing, the city conducted a second physical exam.
Later, the state Department of Human Rights concluded there was "probable cause" that the department's physical exam discriminated against women. The matter was referred to the attorney general's office, but no resolution was ever reached, Nalezny said.
No major changes to the exam are being planned, Nalezny said. The goal this year, she said, is to recruit a sizable number of physically fit female applicants who are likely to score well. The city will recruit from college athletic departments, military programs and fitness centers, she said.
"You need to get women who are very strong," Nalezny said. "There are women who can do this job, but it's not a large percentage of the population."
The firefighter union has representatives on two committees that are helping set guidelines for the written and physical exams. Local 21 president Dick Leitner said the union supports the city's recruitment drive and backs a physical exam similar to the one used in 1999.
"We want the standards to be upheld so we can have quality people who can do the job," he said.
The city is expected to maintain the pool of applicants that emerges from the two exams for three years, hiring an estimated 20 firefighters from the list each year, Nalezny said.
Details on how to apply via mail, fax and Internet will be released today.