TULALIP — Those looking for jobs as first-responders found out that fire department jobs may be a little easier to come by then positions on police departments.
They found that out at the Snohomish County Career Fair at the Tulalip Resort Casino Sept. 6.
The dangers of working in law enforcement are as widely known as ever, but Trooper Travis Shearer reported that this hasn’t discouraged folks from joining the Washington State Patrol. Indeed, the academy’s last class not only hit its 60-seat maximum, but also saw five recruits fill up its reserve seats.
“That’s our largest class ever,” said Shearer, who’s based at District 7 in Marysville. “The academy cycles through every six months, and we’re already starting to book up March.”
Shearer expressed enthusiasm for a profession whose mission of “service with humility” hasn’t changed since 1921, even if some of its methods and technology have been upgraded.
He noted that applying to become a trooper is a three-to-five-month process, including physical training, polygraphs, and both written and in-person psychological examinations. But if recruits manages to pass, they can make of their career what they wish.
“Everyone starts out as a trooper,” Shearer said. “Technically, you’ll always be a trooper, but within that, there are a number of specialization, from being a detective to becoming a collision re-constructionist, who helps us figure out how and why bad crashes happen.”
For dog-lovers, there are stints as K-9 officers, working with dogs to detect drugs or explosives.
“We even have pilot positions, if you want to fly,” Shearer said. “There’s a laundry list of positions, and you’re never locked into anything. Then again, if you want to do twenty-five years in one type of role, that’s up to you, too.”
Over at Snohomish County Fire District 1 in Everett, firefighter/paramedic Paul Brough is looking at an inverse of the patrol’s recruiting situation.
“After the big economic downturn, declining tax revenues forced us to make budget cuts,” Brough said. “At the same time, we had fewer people retiring, and as our staffing has gotten progressively older, we’re now faced with a situation where twenty-five percent of our guys could just walk out and give their two weeks notice tomorrow.”
Brough estimated that adds up to roughly 200 firefighters, paramedics rescue technicians and other personnel. He’s already anticipating starting the next year hiring up to 30 new people.
“Because those old guys all bunched up in a group, we’re looking a mass exodus,” Brough said. “Before, our biggest hires were maybe one or two new people a year. We’re definitely playing catch-up.”
The fire service has also been adjusting to providing more emergency medical services than firefighting. Brough touted the fire district’s work with hospitals to provide those services more directly, saving both the hospitals and insurers money.
“Of course, there are long hours and lots of training involved,” Brough said. “The state health department requires our personnel to obtain certifications as firefighters and emergency medical technicians. But once you get those, you can do nearly anything. We can administer cardiovascular drugs, engage in airway management and even provide life support. Every team is a rolling intensive care unit.”
Skagit Regional Health has combined with Arlington’s Cascade Valley Hospital and with Kimberlee Klassen and Lindsey Richardson was seeking more registered nurses, medical assistants and pharmacy technicians.
“Every department needs more RNs,” Richardson said. “State certifications for medical assistants and pharmacy techs can take nine months, but for RNs, you’re looking at two to three years.”
Klassen acknowledged that nursing jobs often involve graveyard and weekend shifts, but they can transfer between departments to develop different skill sets and experiences so they don’t get burned out.
“We also have residency programs, which are a great opportunity for those who have just graduated,” Klassen said.
One thing that hasn’t changed in the course of job-hunting is the need for interviews, and Terry Ostergaard of Rite Aid in Everett was one of the employers who took part in this year’s interview tables, a first for the annual event.
Judy Kielian met with him, seeking a full-time permanent position in management. While the application process still involves filling out forms online and scheduling a more-formal interview, both she and Ostergaard were positive about their initial meeting.
“At a job fair like this (sponsored in part by Sound Publishing), I’m looking for an upbeat, friendly person who’s willing to work,” said Ostergaard, who lives in Marysville. “Judy had a nice smile, introduced herself, explained her qualifications that were pertinent to this job, and seeming very interested in what we were looking for.”