Crowds began gathering for the initial test at the Pasadena Convention Center around 6:30 a.m.
The applicants have their sights set high. They want to be Pasadena city firefighters but they have to become trainees first.
"I feel very confident," said Mireya Bermudez of Pasadena. "I've done a lot to prepare for this test, I've done a lot to prepare for this department so hopefully everything goes well."
"I'm excited to be here," said Daniel Sanchez of Pasadena. "This is a great opportunity with the Pasadena Fire Department and just like everyone else, working my tail off to get to this point and hopefully it pays off."
Competition is stiff though. More than 4,000 people have signed up to take a three-hour aptitude test at 8 a.m. and 2 p.m. But there are fewer than 12 job openings.
Marc Morris, a volunteer firefighter from Chino, was the first in line. Despite the thick competition, he remains confident and hopes being two hours early for the 8 a.m. exam gives him a leg up.
"It is thick but you can't look at the competition and all the people there because those people eventually will get weeded out," Morris said. "You just got to stay confident, don't give up, take the test, be prepared and get a good night's rest."
But even if they pass the aptitude, there's still a long road to travel before they become trainees.
"Once you pass the general aptitude education testing, then you move onto several series of background checks, oral interviews, psychological tests, you have to take a lot of classes just to get to that point," said Lisa Derdeian of the Pasadena Fire Department.
Trainees then have to go through months of firefighter training before they can put on a uniform.
The Pasadena Fire Department hasn't hired any new recruits since 2009. Retirements created the vacancies.
With a line of applicants this long, one has to stay optimistic.
"It's just a long process and you just have to persevere with the whole experience and take it for what it is," said Anna Calmer of Pasadena.
The Pasadena Fire Department is also accepting firefighter applications from neighboring departments from firefighters hoping to make lateral moves within their careers.
Firefighter trainees' starting salary is $4,100 a month.