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What are We Doing to our Future Firefighters?

A lot of older firefighters like to talk about ‘the way it used to be.’  But, does that mean that it’s the way it should be?

If you’ve ever spent any time in a firehouse you’ll inevitably hear a sentence that starts with “Back when I started…” quickly followed by a story about how things then were better, more efficient or easier to understand.

While that line of thinking is sometimes correct it goes without saying that this might not always be the case.

I’m not here to debate tactics or technical details of the fire service, I leave that to the officers.  But, what I do think firehouses should begin to reconsider is how we treat the future of the fire service.

You see, I started FirefighterNOW as a place where future and aspiring firefighters could have access to the best resources to understand what the fire service is about, learn what is necessary to be a firefighter and most importantly how to navigate the long hiring process.

It began with the intent of being a place where someone with absolutely no knowledge of the fire service can come learn and not be told they’re stupid or ‘maybe if you’re lucky someday you will be a firefighter.’

Since it’s beginning I’ve had the opportunity to speak and interact with hundreds of candidates, many of whom have since been hired by full-time departments.  One trend I’ve noticed is that many of them have experienced several less than pleasant station visits or ride times with their local department.


In fact, I know exactly where they’re coming from, as when I was in EMT school I did ride time at a local department where even if you doubled my current salary today, I would never take a job there.

We all know that one person in our department who is horrible towards students or visitors, and I’m wondering where they feel they get the right to treat the future of the fire service in that way?

Now I’m not saying we need to fall all over ourselves just to make that individual feel welcome.  But as someone who has worked with hundreds of candidates, and counting maybe we should rethink the way we treat our future firefighters.

You’d be hard pressed to meet a firefighter who claimed not to care about the fire service and the culture it has worked so hard to build and maintain.  But my question would be how much do you really care if we’re letting ‘that guy’ possibly push away some of our best candidates?Maybe instead of letting the one obnoxious guy on our shift treat someone like garbage, we should step in and stop it?

Unfortunately, I know some will read this and accuse younger generations of being ‘soft’ or ‘entitled’ and while I may not entirely disagree.  I’ve always found it prudent to take a look at our own behavior before we begin to judge someone else.

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Inc. Yourself

A long time ago I was given the advice of “Inc.” yourself.  Sounds kind of strange, but let me explain.  

You see, in order for a company to grow and survive in the economy they must continue to create and give value to customers and investors alike.   Without offering them any value, they aren’t worth much to anyone.

Nowhere is this analogy more important than for the aspiring firefighter.  There are thousands of potential candidates going for only a few spots at career fire departments.  Among other things, you will have to articulate why a department should spend the time, money and effort on hiring you onto their department?

If you don’t  have a good answer to that, then you’re really going to struggle in the interview, but more on that later.

A better, or perhaps easier, way to think of this is to think of what valuable skills or knowledge would you bring to a department.  If you don’t have any skills or value, what can you begin doing to create value for yourself and a future department?

If you can’t think of any, here’s some to get you started…

  • Become an EMT-B

  • Become a Paramedic

  • Get your Firefighter 1 & 2 and beyond

  • Become extremely fit

  • Make friends in the fire service

  • Get a job working in an ER (where you’ll be exposed to a lot of firefighters)

  • Pick up useful hobbies (being mechanical, building construction, diving, ropes, radios, etc.)

The best way to boost your perceived value is experience, and at this point, you should be doing everything you can to get on a volunteer/part-time department or at the very least somehow become involved with one.

The next best way to boost your value to a department is to get some kind of EMS certification.  As with most things, the more you do, the more valuable you become.mastering-the-firefighter-interview-cover

In short, fire science degrees look great, but I’ve never seen a department that required one to get hired.  

Unfortunately, if you go to any school counselor, they will put you on an educational track that takes a lot of time, and doesn’t necessarily get you the results you want.

If you are looking to stand out in a sea of average applicants the best way to do that is to be a Paramedic.  A lot of departments don’t require you to have your Paramedic certification ahead of time, but like it or not, today’s fire service is moving more and more towards integrating Fire and EMS protection into one service.

Staying ahead of this curve not only makes you smart but allows you to stand out.

If you’re wondering where you can go in your area to get started on an EMS certification a quick google search of “EMT classes in ______” should point you in the right direction.

While a lot of the larger departments out there will send you to their own fire academy whether or not you have experience; I don’t recommend putting all your eggs in the one basket of getting hired at a large department and going through their fire academy.

A lot of smaller departments will require you to have some form of fire education.

This is where I highly recommend going to a Fire Academy.  Fire Academies are usually a few months in length and will give you the necessary education and training (for your particular state) to be certified as a firefighter.

The main difference between this and a Fire Science program is that a Fire Academy is more direct.  They give you all of the classroom and hands-on experience to be a firefighter in the shortest amount of time possible.  Degrees in Fire Science usually take more time (at least 2 years) and may or may not give you the necessary certification to get hired (depends on the school and the program).

Other ways to separate yourself from the crowd is to acquire special knowledge or skills.  This isn’t as important as your EMS certifications, but having excellent mechanical skills, knowledge of construction, plumbing (or any of the trades), ropes or really any sort of skills that would be used daily at a fire department can go a long way.

Regardless of your skills, knowledge, and experience, you must be able to articulate these in a way that is unique and memorable to a panel of interviewers.  Mastering the Firefighter Interview will show you exactly what is necessary to stand out from the sea of other candidates and get hired.  Click here to grab your free cheat sheet to get you on your way!