Craig Mills had been ready for Monday morning for five years.
The 21-year-old Las Vegan stayed physically fit, worked to become a certified emergency medical technician and completed a junior firefighters program. His next step was to apply to become a city firefighter.
"This is all I've wanted to do," he said.
With application, resume and letters of recommendation in hand, Mills arrived at Las Vegas City Hall about 5 a.m. He was ninth in line because he had reserved his spot ahead of time, but it didn't guarantee his dream would be fulfilled.
About 1,300 other hopefuls lined up behind Mills early Monday, all eyeing 15 existing vacancies and others that might come up in the next few years.
The jobs are good ones in normal times, let alone in the middle of a recession. They pay well, come with a good health insurance plan, allow early retirement and don't require a college degree.
Monday's line grew and snaked along the sidewalks outside the building before offices opened at 8 a.m. and the applications were accepted.
It was a familiar scene for city officials, who go through the process every two years.
"We typically see about 1,800 applications in a regular year," city spokeswoman Diana Paul said. "We knew we'd have an overwhelming response."
Paul said officials knew the sagging economy would draw a lot of applications, so the department limited the number to 1,500.
As of Monday afternoon, 1,440 people had submitted applications, but officials expect to hit 1,500 in the next few days. Otherwise, the application deadline will be Oct. 16.
Maha Hawwass arrived at 4:30 a.m. with two friends to apply. The 24-year-old waitress said it took her a while to realize she wanted a career in which she was part of a team.
"I'm a Las Vegas girl. It took a while for the light bulb to go off," Hawwass said. "I'm a very driven person when I know what my role is."
Hawwass said she was surprised by the number of men and women waiting in line.
"I expect a lot more," she said. "This wasn't secret."
Requirements to apply included being at least 18 years old with a high school diploma and basic emergency medical technician certification.
Although only 15 will get the call to continue the steps to the fire academy, all of the applications will stay on file for the next two years, Paul said.
The accepted candidates will go on to written exams, interviews, physical ability tests and criminal and personal background checks.
If accepted, they will spend 16 weeks of training at the city firefighter academy.
The annual salary for a Las Vegas firefighter starts at $49,947 and caps off at $77,602.
Once hired, the firefighters can retire earlier than other city workers and can increase their earnings by getting overtime, callback and longevity pay.
Skie Crawford's uncle, who has been a city firefighter for more than 25 years, encouraged the 31-year-old to apply.
"He's made a great living," he said.
As the 1,014th person in line, Crawford spoke about what set him apart from the other applicants.
"I'm in really good shape, and I have world experience some of these younger guys don't," said Crawford, who is a former National Guardsman.
"This would be more of a career for me. There are a lot harder things in the world; you just have to give it your best."
Contact reporter Maggie Lillis at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0279.