DUBLIN — They came because they didn't like their jobs, because they wanted to do something noble or because they wanted to see if they have a chance of making it.
There was a line of about 50 of them before the doors even opened Saturday morning at the Dublin firefighter Candidate Physical Ability Test site. Although this "career fair" was meant to draw more women into the firefighter ranks, plenty of men came too.
"Most women don't realize that firefighting is an option open to them," said Lisa Beaty, a Contra Costa County fire captain and member of the California Fire Fighter Joint Apprenticeship Committee, a partnership of numerous California fire departments, which organized the recruitment event.
Twenty-two departments took part in the fair, including Livermore-Pleasanton, Tracy, Contra Costa County, Alameda County, Fremont and as far south as Los Angeles County.
For the would-be firefighters, it was a chance to get some face time with the departments they were interested in. They could leave their contact information for all of the participating departments, get information, watch a short video and attempt parts of a strenuous test that they would have to pass to be eligible to become firefighters in California.
"The vast majority of them are people who've never had a firefighting job," committee member Carroll Willis said. "We have reached out to the community colleges and their fire science programs."
According to the committee, only
5 percent of California firefighters are women.
Willis said that many women who started in the 1970s through the'90s are now retiring, and because of anti-affirmative action laws in the previous decade, there are few women left.
To pass the CPAT test, firefightersmust complete eight stations in 10 minutes and 20 seconds, Tracy firefighter Laura Hernandez said.
First, they have to walk on a combination escalator/treadmill for three minutes while carrying 75 pounds of weight and equipment without holding on to a bar for support. The walk simulates climbing up an 11-story building.
Next, they drop 25 pounds of weight and have to drag a fire hose. Then they carry a 30-pound power saw.
"You get really tired by this point," Hernandez said. "It's continuously timed — you can't take a break."
After that they have to climb up a 24-foor ladder, hit a target with a 10-pound sledge hammer, crawl on all fours in a dark U-shaped tunnel, drag a 165-pound dummy and push up weight with a skinny metal bar to simulate breaking a hole in a ceiling.
At the event, participants only did the escalator walk for one-and-a-half minutes.
"I feel it in my thighs — I started to burn a little bit," said 24-year-old Dane Hagan, of Union City. Hagan is in the U.S. Army as a hazardous materials technician.
"Firefighting is an option I'm looking at," he said. "Either that or stay in the Army."
College student Alaina Trocano, 23, of Dublin, was smarting after dragging the heavy dummy.
"It works your calves, she said. "I wasn't expecting that."
Trocano said that she is serious about being a firefighter.
"I decided to do something different; something to be proud of," she said. "I have a written test at the end of the month for (the) Stockton (Fire Department)."
Some participants were in better shape than others. Martinez pet food shop employee Nancy Lewis finished fourth in the Miss Olympia bodybuilding competition in 2004.
"I've always wanted to be a firefighter," she said. "It's something I could be good at."
Some just wanted a change of scenery, such as 31-year-old Dagmar Wittner , of San Francisco.
"I don't like my career right now," the chiropractor said. "I need something more physical. It's either this or the police department."