Heat fells several as thousands jam Atlanta job fair

Nine people who stood hours outdoors Thursday in line in the August heat required medical attention as thousands packed the campus of Atlanta Technical College for a job fair sponsored by the Congressional Black Caucus.

The line into the building was so long, about 600 people had to stand outside, said Capt. Jolyon Bundrige of Atlanta Fire Rescue. Emergency crews responded to several calls for heat-related illness until school officials opened an overflow room and let everyone inside between 2:30 and 3 p.m.

"A total of nine people were treated, and seven were transported" to Grady Memorial and Emory Crawford Long hospitals, Bundrige said. "Several did lose consciousness at some point."

Most of the incidents were heat-related, though in one case, a person complained of chest pains, he said. The victims' conditions were not immediately available.

Traffic was at a standstill  on University Avenue and Metropolitan Parkway prior to the event,  held from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

Asked about the crowd size, Andy Phelan, communications director for Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., said Thursday afternoon that "there's nothing official, but I'm hearing anywhere between 3,000 and 4,000 -- probably closer to 4,000."

Ninety employers -- all of them with job openings, a requirement for participating -- met with job hopefuls, organizers said.

Employers on hand were Atlanta Workforce Development, the Gwinnett County school system and a number of federal agencies including the General Services Administration, Securities and Exchange Commission and Agriculture, Labor, Housing and Urban Development and Transportation departments.

Private employers included Coca-Cola, Sprint, Comcast, Google, NCR, Childrens Healthcare of Atlanta, Microsoft, General Electric, Starbucks, Waffle House and Pepsi.

The crowds, lines and heat took their toll on people in line, both mentally and physically.

Around noon, a woman who had been waiting in line for several hours collapsed and appeared to lose consciousness for a few seconds until people gave her water and revived her. An EMS crew that was on the site carried the woman into the shade and tended to her there.

Radio dispatchers reported "multiple patients down" and said EMTs and fire engines were on the scene to provide assistance.

Others were simply frustrated.

Walter Character, who said he was laid off July 8, said he heard of the fair on the news, but that he and many other people didn't know they had to preregister to avoid standing in line for hours.

"You have to preregister. The line is wrapped around the building and these people may not even get in to see anyone," he said.

Character said he was giving up and heading to another job fair in Gwinnett County.

William Smith had been in line for nearly three hours around 10 a.m. but said he was happy to be there. "It's a good opportunity," he said "I just hope everybody comes out of here OK -- with a job."

"We understand it's hot, the lines are long and people are frustrated," Phelan said at one point in the day.  "But the number of people just underscores the need for jobs, not only in our community but our country."

Phelan said organizers were handing out bottled water to those waiting in the heat, which had topped 80 degrees by noon.

Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., urged job-seekers not to give up hope and called for a federal solution to unemployment.

"It is my hope that some of the people here today will be promised a job -- at least an interview. We have to do something."

Lewis said there must be a "massive effort on the part of this administration and on the part of all of us" in Congress to fund public works jobs similar to those created during the Great Depression.

Lewis said he would push for more federal spending -- "millions and billions of dollars to create jobs, to put people back to work" but he offered no specific proposals other than a summer jobs program that failed to pass Congress.

Across town, a much different scene unfolded at the Gwinnett Center in Duluth. Officials said more than 1,000 people had preregistered for the event, sponsored by the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce, but the crowds were far smaller and the lines relatively short.

Melissa Foster of Lawrenceville recently graduated fromt the nursing program at the Medical College of Georgia and has been looking for a job since March. She was hoping to get an interview for a position at Gwinnett Medical Center.

Foster said her classmates who had done internships at hospitals were faring better in their job searches. "Many of them have found jobs" at the hospitals where they interned. "I wasn't so lucky."

If the job fair doesn't lead to a job, she said her Plan B is to "Continue searching and continue applying and hopefully get an interview."

_ Staff writer Joel Provano contributed to this article