The Austin Chronicle

AFD's Volunteer Hire Department

By Josh Rosenblatt, May 6, 2011, News

About two months ago, the Austin Fire Department posted an announcement on Craigslist that looked a bit out of place among the site's advertisements for used dishwashers; rides to Flagstaff, Ariz.; and illicit sexual encounters. AFD, it read, "is looking for 48 outstanding citizens of Austin to become part of the Oral Interview Boards that will screen incoming potential Fire­fight­er Cadets. ... [T]here will not be pay for these days, but we will provide lunch."

Apparently those promises of free lunches did the trick, because as this paper went to press, AFD was nearly halfway through the two-week structured oral interview portion of its most recent hiring process, a process designed to increase the number of minority and female firefighters in the department. Fire Chief Rhoda Mae Kerr decided back in Decem­ber to make the written cognitive/behavioral portion of the test pass/fail to reduce the "adverse impact" such tests historically have on African-American and Hispanic applicants and to bump up the number of candidates making it through to the structured oral interviews, giving "more people access to the employment process," she said. Which is all good, but it does mean that AFD now has the Herculean task of interviewing 2,400 candidates by the end of next week.

So what do you do when you have to interview that many people in so short a time? Well, if you're the AFD, you go back to your roots and form a volunteer brigade: put out calls on Internet billboards, send letters to community leaders, find a few dozen willing souls, tell them all to grab a bucket, give them 10 days' worth of sandwiches and one day's worth of training, cross your fingers, close your eyes, and hope for the best.

Last week, 48 volunteers were approved for the job of finding the right candidates to fill the 120 positions currently vacant in the department. The interviews will last about 15 minutes for each candidate, known only by a number (see image, above), meeting a three-person panel armed with questions written by the city's hired third-party vendor I/O Solutions, "The Public Safety Selection Specialists." Those who do well in interviews and on an integrity test will move on to face a physical ability test, a background investigation, a psychological assessment, and a medical exam.

No one ever said becoming a firefighter would be easy. Here's hoping they get some free lunches to help them along the way.

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