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Job seekers a bit burned over test procedure

Sat., May 9, 2009

A Spokane Valley Fire Department entrance examination is in limbo because of questions about when job seekers should have arrived for the test.

A letter asked test-takers to arrive at the Decades Banquet Facility at the University Shopping Center a half-hour before their 9 a.m. or 1 p.m. test time, and some were turned away when they arrived after 8:30 a.m. or 12:30 p.m.

Chief Mike Thompson said some of those who weren’t allowed to take the April 17 test wrote letters of protest and complained at Wednesday’s fire department Civil Service Commission meeting.

“They felt the letter was ambiguous and they were unfairly turned away,” he said.

Spokane Valley resident Keyatti Sayers, one of two people who formally petitioned the commission to review the test procedures, said numerous others also had complaints.

“It was a full room,” he said of Wednesday’s meeting at Fire Station 8.

While some complained about ambiguous instructions, Sayers said he blames overly rigid timekeeping.

He said he had lunch at the restaurant and got in line at 12:20 p.m., but was reminded that hats and the like couldn’t be worn during the test. Sayers said he went to his vehicle to store his “headgear” and wasn’t allowed in the test room when he returned at 12:29.

“Everybody’s clock and watch is not the same,” he said. “I tested two years ago and this wasn’t an issue.”

With one member absent, Civil Service commissioners scheduled a special meeting May 20 to consider the complaints. The meeting will be at 6:30 p.m. at Fire Station 8, 2110 N. Wilbur Road.

Meanwhile, a physical abilities test that had been scheduled for June 17 has been postponed until the issue is resolved.

Thompson anticipates a choice between letting the written test stand and throwing it out and starting over.

He said he doubts the same test could be obtained from the company that supplied the first one. Administering a different version of the test “wouldn’t be a viable option from my point of view, but that is a decision for the Civil Service commissioners to make.”

Starting over probably wouldn’t be popular with the 60 people who scored high enough on the original written test to advance to the physical test.

Although some women did well on the written test, none got into the tentative group of finalists because of the preference state and federal law requires the department to give military veterans, Thompson said.

More than 400 people took the test for what may be a handful of jobs next year, but Thompson doesn’t see that as a commentary on the economy.

He remembers competing with hundreds of people when he took an entrance examination, “and that was a few years ago.”

“It’s not unusual in the fire service,” Thompson said. “A lot of people would like to get in the fire service.”

He said he knows of three retirements planned by the end of the year and estimated there could be five to eight openings in the Spokane Valley Fire Department’s 159-member force by next year. Replacements would be drawn from a list established by the current round of testing.

John Craig can be contacted at

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