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Exclusive: One Needs The Right Stuff -- And Nerves Of Steel -- To Be A GWB Painter

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- They are attempting to bring their careers to new heights.

Eighteen hopefuls took the test to become a painter on the George Washington Bridge. It was the largest class of fearless candidates the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey had ever seen, CBS2's Jenna DeAngelis reported exclusively on Monday.

For GWB commuters, the crossing can be a curse or a chance to enjoy stunning views on the way to the office. But for James Russo, the Port Authority's Maintenance Unit supervisor, the bridge is his office.

"All right, we're at the catwalk level. We're still not at the very, very top," Russo said.

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He brought DeAngelis up about 600 feet above the Hudson River to watch a group of candidates attempt to share the unique office space to become the newest bridge painters for the Port Authority. After passing a written test, 18 people move on to the ultimate challenge to see if they could handle the height.

George Washington Bridge
CBS2 was on hand when 18 candidates took one of the many tests needed to become a George Washington Bridge painter. (Photo: CBS2)

When asked what he was looking for in a candidate, Russo said, "We're just looking for confidence. We want know you're not scared of heights."

DeAngelis went along to watch the first half of the tryouts, nine candidates giving it a shot.

"One didn't show up this morning, called and said it it wasn't for him. Another candidate came up on the elevator and the elevator ride was too much. He backed out," Maintenance Unit supervisor Obed Gonzalez said.

DeAngelis could vouch. It's a bit of a bumpy ride. And just like that, they were down seven people that needed to go through the three-step height test.

Step 1: "The climb," which some current bridge painters demonstrated.

"They'll actually climb the steel up to the top of the bridge," Russo said.

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They had to squeeze through small spaces because they'll have to on the job -- every square inch of the steel gets sandblasted and painted.

Step 2: Performed by 13-year bridge painter Rich Borrero.

"They're gonna walk across this beam to the second section, make their way there, turn around, straddle the beam like they're put a choker or go underneath to paint something," Borrero said.

Slow and steady because the beams are only 6 inches wide.

"This is the toughest part right here -- to get up," Borrero said, adding when told he did the maneuver seamlessly, "The candidates need to do it seamlessly, too."

If the candidates fall, underneath them is a net. However, there would be no second chances.

"Once you go down, that's it. You failed the test," Borrero said.

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Nobody has ever gotten hurt during the test. With a safety-first mentality, some of the Port Authority's current 24 bridge painters always stand by to help. Teamwork is a requirement.

"I'm going to be preparing the candidates, putting their harness on," bridge painter Michael D'Onofrio said.

Step 3: Walking the barrels.

When asked if he was scared, candidate Lino Coling of Jersey City said, "No, never scare me," adding when asked if anything scares him, "No, nothing."

Coling is one of four fearless candidates who passed the test on this day, along with 23-year-old Kevin Maser, another guy who was already talking the talk.

"I liked it," said Maser, of Edison, N.J. "I was more excited than I was afraid."

The candidates still have to make it through the next and final round, which is a practical test. That means actually coming out and doing the work. If they pass, they'll get the title of "bridge painter," which starts out at over $60,000 a year.

"It's a great job. You get the most beautiful view of the city every day," Maser said.

A view that's pretty priceless.

Of the 18 total candidates that went through the height test, half moved on to the final test. The Port Authority offers the opportunity for new candidates to take the test about every three years.

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