About 2,500 Buffalo residents took the city’s firefighter exam Tuesday, hoping to score high enough for one of the 75 positions open in the Buffalo Fire Department.
The civil service hiring list based on the exam will be good for up to four years, and many more firefighter positions will open up during that time, according to Fire Commissioner Garnell W. Whitfield Jr.
Newly hired firefighters start at $35,000 a year and top out at $68,000 annually after 11 years. There’s also the opportunity to earn overtime, and the job includes health care coverage and a pension.
What was pleasing about Tuesday’s turnout, Whitfield said, was the diverse background of those who took the exam.
“About 50 percent of the people were minorities, and that included women, Hispanics and African Americans,” Whitfield said. “That means we will have a much more diversified group to draw from, and it will represent all of the make-up of the city.”
In 2008, about 1,600 people took the exam, and only 28 percent were minorities, the commissioner said, explaining that the city this time around worked hard to promote the exam among residents.
Of the current 719 firefighters, 151 are African Americans, Hispanics or women.
When the city announced Aug. 19 that the exam was to be offered, it was only 61 days before the Oct. 19 deadline to submit an application to take the test. There also was a 90-day residency requirement.
That timing upset some individuals and the union representing firefighters. They argued that the scheduling would keep the city from hiring from an expanded pool of candidates and might exclude the best possible candidates.
Others said it was unfair to members of the military who might be out of town and not have the chance to return in time to take the test.
But Whitfield said the city wanted to make the test more available to people already committed to Buffalo.
Results from the exam are expected to be released in early January.
For those who took the test, there is more good news.
“There are about 75 openings, but that number will continue to grow,” Whitfield said. “There are a large number of firefighters who are eligible to retire and that will continue to grow over the duration of this list.”