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Old 06-01-2007, 07:16 PM   #1
Steve Liberati
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You guys have it made. Good pay, good pension, convenient hours, respectable occupation (almost celebrity like status since 9-11), serving the community, free gym access, brotherhood atmosphere...the list goes on. Sure there are SOME negatives but no job is perfect. So how hard is to become a firefighter? Is it just all about who you know? Does having a BA degree and being in great physical shape really help your odds with regard to getting in?
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Old 06-02-2007, 02:40 AM   #2
Ken Froese
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A rookie fireman walked into a fire house carrying his gear. A senior guy asked him, what do you do? He said I'm a fireman. Senior guy said well I can see that but what else do you do, are you a roofer, brick layer , mechanic etc? Rookie guy said I'm just a fireman. Senior guy said hey tom, you need a painter right, now you a painter as well.

While being a fireman has a lot of perks, Everyone I know has another job.
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Old 06-02-2007, 04:01 AM   #3
Neal Dickey
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I'm currently in my 12th week of the Los Angeles City Fire Department's drilltower. Another 6 weeks and I get my first house as a rookie.

The whole hiring process took a little more than a year. While I can't speak for all departments, I know my department wants folks who have at least a high school education. I'm guessing a degree doesn't hurt; I have one. Most of the guys in my class have an AA degree at minimum.

Yes, definitely being in shape helps, maybe not quite as much for the hiring process, but definitely for the drilltower. We're moving into phase training this week. We now start putting together all the hose and ladder evolutions that we taught individually for the last 10 weeks. Now, it's throw a ladder, pull some hose, ventilate a roof, etc. while wearing your turnouts and breather. Practical application time.

My advice would be to do your homework on the fire service, take some fire tech. classes, do station visits at the department you're interested in, etc.
Then, I would do some homework on yourself: why do you want this job? Ask yourself some tough questions because there comes a point where you start to question why you're really here. If the answers to those foundational qustions are weak or for the wrong reasons then you can only fake it so long.

Feel free to drop me a line if you have any questions.

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Old 06-02-2007, 08:40 AM   #4
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bottom line is that in most departments of any size, there is a huge amount of competition for slots. but i think in the last few years, there was an unusually large number of retirees across the country, so that may have opened up more spots. back when i was working the gut bucket in chico, ca (til 2001), i tested for city fire just to see what the fitness & agility test was like (my roommate was actually trying to get a job). as i recall there were something like 150+ applicants--for the volunteer staff alone. and this is in a town of maybe 80,000. chico is a big firefighting town, though (if there is such a thing)--every other person you encounter is either city fire or CDF, so it may not be an accurate representation.

i have a few friends and family who are or were FFs, and each got in with different credentials. from what they tell me it's a balance of timing, who you know, how good you are, and the alignment of the stars.

like neal says, do your homework. find out what the dept you want to work at requires, looks for, needs, etc. try to get a volunteer position--get experience, even if it's just running hose packs and sweeping glass--and see if it's even something you want to do. you'll also have a chance to show the dept guys you're dedicated, etc. then get your FF1 at an academy and start applying.
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Old 06-02-2007, 01:46 PM   #5
Robert Olajos
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I can only speak to my experience getting onto a medium-size Canadian department. I got on two years ago with a good resume, good interview skills, great aptitude test, and adequate physical skills. I have a paramedic diploma, two years on an ambulance, two years as a volly FF, and a BA. Thinking back, I honestly don't know how I got that job. It was a one-off thing too, I just threw my name into the pot to see what would happen. There were 400 applications for 15 spots.

Who I knew was not part of the equation at all. In fact, the sons of firefighters have been having a dog of a time getting on to our dept. A degree or diploma is not technically required, but I don't know anyone who doesn't have at least one. Being in shape helps, but when I think back to the physical exam, it was a pathetic representation of the level of fitness required for the job. Crossfit is great for that. I'd love to take that physical again and see how much I've improved.

Pad your resume with whatever trainings and certifications you can. Some are obvious, like first aid or paramedical training, swiftwater rescue, wildland firefighting, haz mat, terrorism awareness, auto ex, small engine repair, carpentry, construction, truck driver's license.... Some may not be so obvious, like adult education, instructor certification in one of the above disciplines, or CF certification. Experience with kids (coaching, teaching, camp counsellor) is good because we're often giving tours for school groups. Experience with old folks is great because most medical calls are with geriatrics. Community voluteer work reflects greatly on your character. The tradition of FFs having second jobs is dying out, at least up here. Lots of guys still do, but lots of guys don't. Ask if you can do ride alongs with ambulance, police, or the local FD. Even see if you can sit in on a shift at the ER, surgical ward, or autopsy ward.

My main point here is to get ALL of the required skills and certifications, and add on to that with a pile of extras. Don't just go for the minimum, or for what everyone else has. Stand out. When you fill out your forms, don't forget anything. That's gotta be the quickest way to get your application tossed out. Make sure everything is in before the deadline.

Get some professional help with your resume and interview skills. We have job placement centres where staff will go over these and offer suggestions, even give you a mock interview. Maybe you have a friend or family member who works in management or human resources who could help out.

Set up an appointment with the traning officer, deputy chief, or chief of the dept you want to apply to (do this well in advance of the ad being put in the paper). Ask them what kind of person they are looking for, what kind of hard and soft skills are valuable. Send that person a short thank you note.

Drop by the fire hall with a box of donuts (phone the Captain ahead of time and make sure it's ok). Ask the firefighters what you should be doing. Don't stay more than 20 minutes. Thank them profusely. Send a short thank you note to the crew.

Take the discipline CF teaches and apply that to becoming a FF, and you'll get on.

That said, if all you want is a job with good pay, good pension, convenient hours, brotherhood, gym access and celebrity status, perhaps you should look elsewhere.
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Old 06-03-2007, 08:42 AM   #6
Steve Liberati
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Thanks for the responses! I'm NOT looking to make a career change tomorrow, but just something I thought about and couldn't help but inquire a little more about. I agree passion is the first requirement for whatever occupation you choose in life. Good wages and benefits are great but a good job is not determined by what you make but rather how much you enjoy what you do (and if you can make a decent living doing it, you're way ahead of the game).

Although I think a firefighter would be right up my alley and something I can definitely see myself is where my heart is.

Just sometimes I worry if I can support a family (not now, but down the road) from it.
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Old 06-04-2007, 07:45 AM   #7
Peter Queen
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Based on your opening statement Steve, I am almost offended. It’s not all about the glamour and perks. In fact, if anyone says that those are the top reasons for joining better not be on my crew. Serving the community and having a family like atmosphere is important and to think that it’s who you know, again is a bogus position to come from. Again, I don’t like primadonas or hotshots and I take my work very seriously. When you have experienced seeing people dying right in front of you, the party atmosphere quickly leaves your mindset. Even being a volunteer firefighter keeps us very busy. Like Ken’s story represented, we all come from different backgrounds and are still currently working in other side jobs or in my case as a VFF, other professions. Then when I get home I am on call until I go to my regular job again the next day. Convenient hours, what’s that???? It’s only convenient per se to the firefighter but to the family members that support them it’s a great sacrifice just the same. Not to mention when I get a call at 2am, my night time sleeping cycle is shot and then I feel like a walking zombie the next day at work. Take into account what Neal said as well. He made a good point about soul searching.
I don’t mean to be a hard-arse, but it is a tough life at any level. I am just venting a little because in my area we are getting a lot of fatalities lately. But like always, you have to work through it.
Good luck with your decision.
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Old 06-04-2007, 04:34 PM   #8
Steve Liberati
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Sorry to offend you. Nowhere did I say or imply (at least it was not my intention) that firefighters are a bunch of overpaid bums. I really think you took what I said out of context. I understand to you fighting fires is much much more than some of the advantages that come along with the job. Thats fine. I respect that. I just don't think its reasonable for you to think every single person interested in pursuing a career as a firefighter must meet your standards with respect to how much they love what they do. Because I wasn't running around the house my entire life with a fire helmet and ax in my hand does that mean I don't have the passion necessary to become a firefighter? Come on now. Let's be for real. I talked too many people on a daily basis in the real world and once in a blue moon a conversation comes up about how good firefighters and some LEO have it. Hope that is not new news to you. Again thats not to say firefighters don't do anything, just to say its a relatively good job.

Notice I simply asked what it took to become a firefighter and not "I'm looking to become a firefighter and want to know what it takes to land a position." BIG difference man.

Again apologize for the confusion.

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Old 06-04-2007, 09:14 PM   #9
Jonas Smith
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I'm just a lurker around here, this is my first post. But, as a 10 year Professional Fireman for City of Seattle, I had to respond to this one...
I can surely see where Peter is coming from.
You listed right off the top the very reason I would disqualify you from becoming a Fireman.
1) Pay... If your doing it for the money, become a investment banker.

2) Good Pension... Mediocre in Washington State under the LOEFF2 retirement plan. Plan on giving a few $100 a pay to an investment banker, and plan on working into your 60's

3) Hours... We work 2-3 24 hour shifts per week. Scheduling is a issue if your spouse works, and you have children. You will work on Christmas, Fathers Day, Sons Birthdays, Graduations etc.... I dont complain about it at all. Theres far, far worse work schedules out there... like that of my brothers and sisters in Iraq and Afganistan.

4) Respectable Occupation... Well, I think so also, but why do you have to go and cheapen your statment by bringing up 9-11. Hundreds of Firefighters were killed, not to mention our Brothers in Blue (law) and the THOUSANDS of civilians. What's so "celebrity" about that?

5)Serving the community... Well, you got that right!

6) Free gym access... HUH? Where? I'd like to sign up! We have a couple of machines in dank basement that the Department got for us, the rest is junk that Firemen have brought in on thier own (think sand filled plastic weights). This is why our station is getting into Crossfit. I'm an amateur welder, and am in the process of welding up some of the crossfit equipment like a Pullup bar and Dip bar. So basicly we are building our gym, literally by hand, and paying for all the materials out of pocket. I guess theres no monthly fee when it's done so, except the sweat and puke of course!

7) Brotherhood Atmosphere.... Way to go! That's 2 out of 7! But remember, brothers and sisters fight. We still have our problems. I'm lucky to be at a great fire station with great people on my shift and the other 3 shifts also.

And if you consider Jerry Garcia to be one of your scholars, Well....
I guess I would have picked something from Teddy Roosevelt, but that's just me.

O.K. on a more serious note. It is tough to get a job. You dont need a degeree, I dont even think it would help if your testing in the civil service arena. The biggest thing that helped me was I enlisted in the Marine Corps while I was in High School and went to Boot Camp right after graduation. Extended my enlistment to 5 years, and went overseas with a special operations unit.
Military experience is a huge thing, in my book. It is very relative to the life of a fireman. You should be willing to train, train, and train, because lives depend on it. The only thing worse than getting hurt or killed in a fire is having your partner on the tailboard get killed, or hurt, because you didn't have the minerals required for the job. You have to be able to handle a intense situation where all f'n hell is breaking loose around you, and not flip the F out. Slow down and figure it out instead of going ape $#!t. Only 20% of the calls we go on are fire related. The rest are mostly emergency medical services. So again, when Grandma is crumping in front of you at the Thanksgiving dinner table and you have 20 family members going ballistic around you, you have to have your $#!t together.
Improvise, adapt, make it happen... see the crossfit principals.

Finally, I would say, we are not Heroes. We are trained and paid to do a job that we volunteer to do. Wanna-be-heroes need not apply.

P.S. As to your comment about Peters "Standard"... I think individuals should shoot for the highest standard in whatever they do. I didnt always want to be a fireman, my life exprience led me to it, heck I might do something else 5 years from now. But you can believe no matter what I am doing,I'll be striving to be my best at it. That's just who I am.
Sure, you can schlepp in and be a "just-good-enough" Fireman. But how fair is that to your partner whose life depends on you, or someones 10 year old child that you are doing CPR on?
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Old 06-04-2007, 10:19 PM   #10
Tom Corrigan
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listen to some of the great advice here, but I want to give you a different picture, one that guys don't want to talk about to the general public. But since only FFers or wanna-bes will read this thread, here it goes...

what FFers don't tell you is how it feels to do CPR on a limp and dying baby, with the mother and fathers and parents all in the room, yelling and crying and screaming at you to save their [SIDS] baby. They also don't tell you that they could "taste" the baby every time they licked their lips for the next two weeks...

They don't tell you what it's like to smell rotting flesh when you go help some guy out at the Men's Mission...

They don't tell you about seeing people squished in gigantic machinery at the local paper mill, then having to try and revive them (unsuccessfully)in front of their co-workers...

They don't tell you about all the dead and dying people they see every shift, from heart, lung and kidney problems, and from gun shots, stab wounds and car wrecks, usually fueled by alchohol and/or drugs...

Don't be fooled by the "cool stories" you hear from some of your friends or acquaintinces who may be firefighters. They don't want to talk about all the ugly things they see and all the horrible things the have to do.

They can't pay you enough to do and see the things that happen on this job. I've been a fireman at a busy city since 1994, and while I've seen my share of gore and tragedy, a lot of fireman have seen more. Fireman goof around, pull pranks, joke with each other and try to have fun and stay positive to help cope with all the terrible things we see.

Firefighting is a very stressful job. Don't be fooled into thinking otherwise. While most of us love our job overall, IMO we hate a lot of the things that we see. It's just the price we pay for "having it made"....
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