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Where Do I Start To Become A Future Firefighter?

(Photo Credits: Mark Tabay, Fresno City College, Public Information Officer).

As Fire Science Instructors and Fire Technology Directors, we are frequently asked by perspective fire academy candidates, "what fire academy should I attend?"  Our response is usually a series of questions for the prospective future firefighter.  Where do you reside?  Where is your community located?  Where do you want to serve as a firefighter?  Where does your family live?  Where will you have a stable support system established?

There are several State Fire Marshal accredited academies in California.  Our suggestion is finding a location that can support you during one of the hardest and most challenging college semesters you will ever experience.  Having a support system is quintessential and vital in having a successful experience during this grueling process of becoming a firefighter. Build a network of people who support your journey and finding those that can mentor you along the way can be the difference between success and failure. Start by being open and upfront with your family about the challenges you will face and what you need from them to finish. The level of commitment required for the fire academy isn't something that you can take for granted. The fire academy will consume your whole life for at least six months, and you will have no free time.

The level of preparation before the academy is just as important as during the academy.  You have to be in top physical condition before you embark on this journey. Many academies require candidates to pass a physical fitness assessment or hold a current candidate physical ability test (CPAT) card as a pre-requisite to starting the academy. To prepare, try various fitness activates such as running, high-intensity training, and functional fitness programs. Many basic fire academies include a run of 1.5 miles, pushups, sit-ups, pull-ups, or a combination of fire ground movements as a standard entry assessment. The start of your day during the academy is as early as 4:30 AM and somedays you might leave the drill grounds at approximately 7:30 PM in the evening. Both of us can recall studying for exams till midnight and only receiving four hours of sleep per night. The weekends are not days off; however, they are full days of continuous self-improvement and preparation for future firefighter skills examinations.

 

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The Future Firefighter: Fire Engineering Blog Talk Radio Show with Dr. Harry Carter

Live from FDIC 2018: Day Five

The Value of Education in the Fire Service

 

“I have achieved a great deal in life through education.”– Dr. Harry R. Carter

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Leading Throughout Probation and Beyond in the Fire Service: Part 5

 

Last week we discussed two very important character traits; those traits were maintaining a strong work ethic and taking the proper initiative.  This week we are going to cover two more equally important character traits that will help you achieve success throughout your fire service career:

You must maintain a positive attitude, andHave the mindset of sharing this with others while on duty.

The academy and the probationary period can be compared to a pressure cooker.  You will be pushed beyond your physical and mental limits.  However, having a positive attitude with the correct mindset will enable you to overcome this pressure.

There will be bad days.  There will be days where you will be completely broken down.  You will find out what you are made of and what your limits are during this process.  It is important to know what your pain threshold is and also what you are capable of achieving under pressure.  This is a profession where you will be under pressure your entire public safety career.  It is essential to learn how to improvise, adapt and overcome in this stressful environment.  Remember, this is the best job in the world.  Everyday we are on duty is an opportunity to help someone that needs us to mitigate his or her emergency.

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Leading Throughout Probation and Beyond in the Fire Service: Part 4

There are two character traits that will help you stand out from the rest throughout the probationary period; those traits are maintaining a strong work ethic and taking the proper initiative. When it is time to go to work, you have to roll up your sleeves, because work is always the answer. Take initiative when something needs attention around the firehouse. Don’t walk past any job that you can handle, especially the empty toilet paper rolls or the overflowing kitchen garbage can. The moment that you identify something that needs to be taken care of, nominate yourself to accomplish these simple tasks.

While in the probationary period you must maintain a sense of urgency when you are performing work around the firehouse. When your officer or senior firefighter requests your presence, take initiative and move with a sense of purpose. There is a term called fire-ground pace in the fire service. A fire-ground pace is defined by moving with a sense of urgency. Start off probation by maintaining this sense of purpose and urgency in your movement. It is up to you to keep this fire-ground pace throughout the completion of the probationary period and beyond in your fire service career.

During an emergency call move to the rig with a sense of purpose and wear your appropriate turnout gear. Take initiative by locating the address on the map board and map out the call to help your fire apparatus engineer. Make sure and wear your ANSI approved traffic safety vest when working near or on the roadway. Always bunker up and buckle in for every call – Period. You are in charge of your own safety. Make sure and mask up if you are in an IDLH environment. Wear your appropriate personal protective equipment for the emergency. You have to lead yourself when selecting what to wear for each specific emergency. Purchase a pair of safety glasses for EMS related calls to protect your eyes from harmful exposures. Have these safety glasses with you at all times during EMS calls. Keep an extra pair of EMS gloves in your duty pants just in case you need an extra pair.

During the overhaul process of any incident, it is an opportunity for you to roll up your sleeves and go to work. This isn’t the time to go and hide. However, this is the time to maintain the important character trait of a strong work ethic. Be the first one to step forward and raise their hand when something needs to be done. When you return back to the firehouse after the call, several tasks need to be completed in order to return back to service. This is an opportunity for you to hustle and get ready for the next call. The community and the citizens you took an oath to protect are waiting for you to put the apparatus back in service. Move with a sense of purpose.

Take the initiative in maintaining a parade finish on your duty boots and take pride in your appearance. You have the best job in the world. Allow your duty boots to reflect just how proud you are of this opportunity to serve your community.   You can learn a lot from someone just by looking at the finish on his or her duty boots. Make sure your gig line is always strait and wear your Class B Uniform shirt when necessary. The public is always watching. Be professional at all times both on duty and off duty. You can’t simply take the badge off when you are off duty because you are always on duty.

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Leading Throughout Probation and Beyond in the Fire Service: Part 3

This is a profession where you have to make the commitment of becoming a lifelong learner. The fire academy is over and now you have found yourself in the Jumpseat. Congratulations, you have arrived; however, the learning doesn’t stop at the completion of the recruit academy! The learning has just begun with the start of the probationary period. The main difference between the academy and the job is that you now have to distance yourself from the textbooks. The classroom is extremely important and now you have to take what you learned within those four-walls, and apply it to the street.

You will be issued a stack of textbooks; a task book sign-off binder and a punch list of everything that you have to complete, by the end of the probationary period. This is the time to lead throughout probation and learn time management, among many other things. In this profession, it is impossible to learn too much. Always keep the mindset of being a student of the fire service. The moment that you think you have learned everything about this profession, you will be humbled with an important lesson on humility.

It takes a perfect balance of education, certifications, time-in-grade as well as experience, to become a seasoned firefighter. The task book is the initial phase of the learning process in order to go from a recruit firefighter to an entry-level firefighter and beyond. It takes many years to receive the experience needed to be successful in this profession. The learning never ends if you want to be the best of the best. Be humble; keep your nose in the textbooks and your physical presence on the training grounds. The only way to successfully pass the probationary period is to learn about the job. This is the opportunity to ask questions from the instructor cadre. Take initiative and train like your life depends on it, because in this profession it does.

Take charge of your own learning. No one is going to learn for you or teach you what he or she knows or has experienced. Hold yourself accountable and follow the course of the recruit task book. There will be deadlines that must be completed on a timely basis. Learn to prioritize and execute accordingly. You are in control of your own destiny. Don’t expect to have a senior member or an officer simply sign you off or “pencil whip” the task book process. Don’t settle for the easy or mediocre way of completing the task book. Be a professional and strive to do the best in every aspect of this profession!

You are a shell of the books you read, the podcasts you listen to, the fire service related magazines you thumb through and the experiences you hear from the senior members of the profession. Take the time to absorb it all-in, and keep the positive attitude of a student. There are a lot of training seminars and conferences that one can attend in this profession. The main priority right now is the recruit task book. There will be plenty of time to attend additional training at the completion of probation. The training doesn’t stop when you get the badge. The learning continues throughout every fire and incident you mitigate in this profession. The training seminars will be there to attend throughout the rest of your career. In my own opinion, it is essential to attend these training conferences on a consistent basis throughout your entire career.

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Leading Throughout Probation and Beyond in the Fire Service: Part 2

You have survived the first week as a probationary firefighter in the best career in the world. You might need to pinch yourself because you possibly feel like you just won the lottery. The first week undoubtedly went by so fast, that it feels like a blur and you are still in the process of trying to find out how you will “fit-in” to the firehouse culture. The last article covered the roles, responsibilities and the duties of being a probationary firefighter. This article is going to focus on the character traits that are necessary to pass the probationary period and these traits will also make a major contribution in building important relationships in the firehouse.

It is very important to have your own unique morals, values and ethics prior to gaining entry into the fire service. These traits are the reference point for anyone seeking a career in this field. It is those same traits that you will need to harness and rely upon while leading throughout probation. Always do the right thing. Do not participate in any activity that is illegal, immoral or unethical on or off duty in your fire service career - period. The impact of violating these values will be catastrophic for your fire service career.

The probationary period allows you the opportunity to display your own personal character traits. It is during this time that you will want to listen more than you speak. Let your actions speak for themselves around the firehouse.   Everything you touch is an opportunity for you to leave your own unique set of fingerprints. Actions speak louder than words. Keep your head down and your nose to the grindstone while you earn this position. Be effective and efficient with your time while on duty. With every action is an opportunity for you to make an investment into the department and your fire service career. Always remember you were hired as a public servant. Accept this title with enthusiasm and humility.

On your first day, you probably learned where to park your vehicle and your officer gave you instructions on how to access the firehouse. That first day, you probably learned where all the cleaning supplies were located and you started the process of learning the layout of the firehouse. At times it can be overwhelming as you learn your place in the firehouse. It is at these times that you need to pace yourself and absorb all the information like a sponge. Carry a notebook with you at all times and keep detailed notes of important information regarding where everything is located.

Over the last week and while on probation, you probably haven’t had the opportunity to sit down. As a probationary firefighter, you need to learn what is acceptable during this time while you are gaining entry into this prized profession.   Most departments don’t allow their probationary members to have a seat in the firehouse, with the exception of meal time and/or classroom training time. Again, this brings up the notion of earning your seat in the firehouse. In my humble opinion, you earn your seat everyday in this profession. I would ask your senior firefighter and/or officer if there is an acceptable place for you to sit while not performing the tasks related to your probation. Ask for direction and accept humility that this seat is something that is earned throughout your career. Every member has an assigned seat in the day room and also at the kitchen table.   Learn where all the members prefer to sit on your shift. Make sure and wait until all members are seated in their assigned seating arrangements. Probationary firefighters always are the last ones to sit down. You have to know your place in the firehouse culture; that place is always first to do work and last to sit down. When the meal is finished, don’t be in such a rush to jump up and start cleaning the table. Try to find the right time to be the first up, without disrupting the nightly traditions, as many crews enjoy sitting around the table for a while before cleaning up and your in a rush to get the kitchen cleaned may actually annoy them and work against you.

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Leading Throughout Probation and Beyond in the Fire Service: Part I

 

From our first day in the fire service, we have the opportunity to be a leader and lead throughout probation and well beyond, until long after our retirement.  This article is not the perfect recipe or golden ticket to pass probation.  It takes more than a list of rules to be successful in passing probation.  Ultimately, the responsibility of passing the probationary period rests firmly on the probationary firefighters shoulders.

On our first day, as we embark upon this prized career in the fire service, it is necessary to show up and arrive early to the fire station.  Early is comprised of at least 60 minutes prior to the start of our shift.  Several tasks are essential and required to be completed before we can officially start the day on “Big Red” in the Jumpseat.  Don’t be late in this profession!  You will be left behind at the station if you are late, and more importantly, you don’t get a 2nd chance for a 1st impression!

Someone has to raise the American flag.   This is an opportunity for the probationary firefighter to take responsibility of raising Old Glory for the community we have the honor to serve.  It takes leadership from the probationary firefighter to raise the flag.  No one is going to issue this order because this is our responsibility.  It is also our responsibility to lower the flag and properly fold the flag in the evening.  Learn proper flag etiquette and take leadership in learning how to honor the American flag.

The next task that the probationary firefighter must perform is thoroughly checking their department issued personnel protective equipment (PPE).  No one is going to check our gear for us in this profession.  This is our responsibility to make sure our gear is in order and that we have all the required important pieces of our safety gear ensemble.  Preparation is just one of the key ingredients to the recipe required for successfully passing probation.  Thoroughly check all the components of our SCBA; including air cylinder, mask and the required batteries for operation.  Also check the flashlights and make sure the batteries are in proper working order.  Make sure to have at least two working flashlights at all times.  By thoroughly checking our safety gear and equipment on “Big Red,” this demonstrates leadership from the probationary firefighter level.  As a probationary firefighter it is our responsibility to make sure all firefighter related tools are accounted for and are in working order on the apparatus.

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What is a tactical athlete?

 

Prior to my pursuit of my dream career position in the fire service, my original dream was representing the United States as an Olympic Hopeful for the sport of Greco-Roman wrestling.  I spent a majority of my childhood and early adult life preparing for the opportunity to be a member of Team USA Wrestling.  I started my athletic career in the dojo studying the martial sciences.  At the early ago of six, I was enrolled in my local martial arts academy studying the martial science of Judo and Jujitsu.

My sensei instilled in me the importance of hard work and discipline from a very early age.  I respected the martial sciences and the concept of mastering the craft.  I was instructed in both English and Japanese.  I was required to know the pronunciation and the spelling of every technique in both English and Japanese prior to being award the promotion of each belt.  Nothing was awarded or given without hard work through preparation and mastery of the martial sciences.

I continued in athletics while in middle school and high school.  While in middle school, I discovered the correlation of the martial sciences with the sport of folk style wrestling.   I received the opportunity to travel with the Junior National Team from California to the location of the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia, two weeks prior to the opening ceremonies of the Olympics.  Our team from California was comprised of several soon to be Junior World Champions in the sport of Wrestling.  In fact, several years later in our collegiate years, several of us became NCAA National Champions, Olympic Medalists and Ultimate Fighting Championship stars.

My first professional Greco-Roman match as an Olympic Hopeful was in 1999 at the USA Wrestling National Championships in Las Vegas, Nevada.  As fate would have it, I drew the #1 seeded Greco-Roman wrestler in the Country and one of the top wrestlers at my weight class in the world.  For the next several years participating at the US Nationals in Las Vegas, Nevada, I would draw the top #1 or #2 wrestler at my weight class each year in 2001, 2002 and 2003.  In order to be the best at any competitive sport, you have to compete with the best athletes in the world.

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Become a volunteer and serve in your community.

Over the years I have volunteered for various organizations. When I first started my career in the fire service, I began as a volunteer and, this original experience taught me the importance of volunteerism. One of the most rewarding volunteer experiences is when I traveled to Port-au-Prince, Haiti after the devastating earthquake in 2010. I will forever remember this humbling experience.

I had the unique opportunity to deploy to Haiti with a team of doctors, nurses, and firefighters from all over the world. I spent ten days on the ground in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, assisting our team of healthcare professionals with the logistical needs of setting up mobile care clinics. Some of the remote locations of the mobile care clinics were orphanages and schools. Due to the devastation from the earthquake our team of firefighters had to carry all of the items needed for our team to conduct these clinics.

I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to teach at some of the schools regarding earthquake safety. During these teaching sessions, I stressed the importance of having an emergency plan. Having a safe location for everyone to assemble at during an emergency. These teaching sessions wouldn’t be possible if it weren’t for the excellent translators that were available to translate for our team. Some of these translators would walk ten miles per day for the opportunity to translate for our team.

The last day of my deployment, I had the opportunity to “scrub in” as an operating room technician at the Hopital Adventiste d'Haiti. This experience was also one of the most humbling moments of my entire life. In the operating room, I assisted a group of surgeons from Italy and Greece with Doctors without Borders. I was extremely exhausted on the last day of this deployment. To this day I am not sure how I found the energy and the determination to keep going to serve the Haitian people.

You don’t have to travel to a third world country to become a volunteer. You can volunteer in your local community. Before my deployment to Haiti, I had the opportunity to volunteer in the emergency department at my local hospital. I have also had a chance to volunteer at my local community college as a skills coach for the emergency medical technician program. There are many more organizations that are in need of volunteers.

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Why I Became a Public Servant

 

I will never forget the day, I signed up to be a volunteer firefighter for my community.  In 2005, I can recall watching the devastation on TV from the natural disaster Hurricane Katrina and Rita in the Gulf Region of the United States.  I felt like I needed to help in some form or fashion, I wanted to do something.    At the time, in my local area of California, I visited my local volunteer fire station and signed up to become a volunteer firefighter.  I really didn’t know that I would soon be embarking on my future career in the Fire Service.

I attended training on Wednesday evenings and weekends for eight months at the Firehouse.  I graduated from my departments firefighter basics program and became an official probationary firefighter.  I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of every training class in the firefighter basic program over the course of those eight months.  I consumed and digested every piece of information regarding the fire service.  Every magazine on the coffee table at the firehouse, I must have read three times from cover to cover over the period of my first year.  I even asked the senior firefighters at my station if I could take home the old magazines to glean the valuable information they contained.  I became a student of the fire service.  Over the next year following the department sponsored training program, I attended various emergency medical and fire service related training class.

 

I will never forget my first call some ten years ago as a volunteer firefighter.  After that first call, I came to the realization that this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my career.  I approached the crossroads of my life and I had to make an important decision.  I wanted to become a public servant.  I wanted to help my community.  In December of 2006, I served my first paid shift as a reserve firefighter. And in my first year, I signed up for a total of 96 - 24-hour shifts at the firehouse, in addition to my regular full time day job position.

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Are you a Change Magnet?

Do you embrace change or do you resist it?  Do you approach a conversation with an open mind or do you approach the discussion with a closed mind?  Are you willing to accept technological advances or discredit them?  Are you willing to pull up a chair at the table and join the conversation?

I am a humble public servant.  My ultimate goal and purpose, in my position in the fire service, is to serve the public.  Our customers expect a highly competent professional that will arrive in an effective and efficient manor to mitigate their emergency.  Are you willing to be a change magnet?

The fire service is rapidly approaching the age of discovery in the realm of scientific information.  This scientific data is on the forefront of many conversations and discussions around the firehouse kitchen table.  The application of this scientific data is very difficult to apply, digest and even comprehend.  Are you willing to embrace this information?

In this age of discovery, this scientific information is highlighting information that has already been discovered in the past.  However, in this current age of information several are reconsidering this preexisting information.  This age of technology is integrated in almost every aspect of the society of today.  For example, smart phones, smart televisions and now even smart refrigerators.  You can see this advancement of technology by attending national fire/ems conferences and walking the exposition floor.  Are you willing to attend these conferences and become familiar on the advancement of this technology in the fire service?

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