With the growing population, expansion of the urban/suburban environments, and a decrease of people willing to volunteer, we are seeing an increase in career Firefighter openings. Add this to a struggling economy and an increase in unemployment, and it’s no wonder why so many people are lining up to test for the position of Firefighter. We generally have secure jobs, decent pay & benefits, a good pension plan, and an awesome schedule. Who wouldn’t want to be a Firefighter? We are blessed every day to wake up and wear the Maltese Cross on our chest. But this is not a path suitable for everyone.
This is a lifestyle not a job. I have worked with many career Firefighters who have no desire to be a Firefighter. Many times they have taken this job to hold them over until they get something else and some never get out. Most of the time it is very noticeable because these people do not commit anything to the Fire Service. Bare minimum kind of guys. This is not a job that allows you to come in, clock your time, and leave. We are not stamping metal or working a line, this is a very dynamic profession. We respond to everything and every call we respond to is different than the last. You have to commit a large portion of your life to this job. If you don’t you’re a risk to yourself and others. On top of that you’re going to be miserable.
This is a trade. A lot of the younger candidates I see coming into the Fire Service have Bachelor’s Degrees in Fire Science, but can’t handle a hoseline or force a door. We wear blue collars and have our names on our shirts. This is not an academic job. It is hands on. Its skilled labor. Don’t get me wrong I have degrees and I am a strong supporter of increasing your knowledge academically to become better at your job, but you have to be able to do the job first. Take on an apprentice mindset and learn your trade.
This is a team sport. You have to be able to interact with others in this job. Everything that you will do is done as a team and you will interact with the public every day. If you are more of the loner type this is not a good fit. Everything is done together. We eat, work, exercise, train, and sleep together. Most of us even meet up on our days off and spend more time together. If you don’t really know someone, how can you put your life in their hands every single day?
Values are imperative. This is one of the only professions where, as a stranger, people will willingly put their children’s life in your hands with no questions asked. We come into people’s home every day without a second of hesitation. This amount of trust is something that has to be there for us to be able to do our job and we have that trust because of our values. You do not have to be a saint, but you do have to know right from wrong. I like to always try and live by the values I learned in the Army; Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless-Service, Honor, Integrity, & Personal Courage. These don’t apply to everyone but, make a list of your values and what you think a Firefighter’s values should be and compare them.
Death is a part of our job. We generally do not get called when everything is okay. You will see people die and it is not as peaceful as Hollywood makes it seem. It’s not something any of us want to see or experience but it is a part of our job. It is never easy, but you have to be able to move on and run the next call. It takes a strong and stable mid-set to deal with what you will see in this job. You have to be mentally tough. Death is not only for those who you’re trying to save either. On average we lose 100 of our brothers a year.
The problem we face now is there isn’t a written or physical exam to test someone’s overall suitability for a job that demands so much. How do we find the candidates that will fit into our systems? What process can we use to eliminate unfit candidates without legal repercussions? The attitude needed to succeed in this job is not measureable and not everyone is suited for it. We need to educate candidates on what it takes to be a Firefighter, other than passing the Civil Service Exam and CPAT. Let them know not everyone can do this job.