In December 2007, a big-city fire department on the west coast was accepting 1,000 applications for the position of entry-level firefighter, over a one-day period, after having given out well over 1,000 applications earlier in the week. The job announcement stated only 1,000 applications would be...
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While I can feel the pain as I remember having to test for numerous fire departments, and go through somewhat similar processes (but not as chaotic as this one, which seems to win the prize for most chaotic) trying to get hired as a firefighter, I cannot help but think the following things when I hear such comments after having been employed as a firefighter for more than a few years now:
- Since when are anyone of us "entitled" to a job anywhere, let alone in the fire service? The last time I checked, the only thing we were entitled to was birth, paying taxes and death.
- Does terminating the fire chief solve the problem? Probably not. We have to remember who the fire chief works for - typically the city manager, the mayor, a city council, a board of directors, or some other form of government where they work as an "at will" employee - meaning they can get fired for any reason and they follow the direction of that governing board, regardless of whether they agree with the decisions made above their head and whether or not the decisions align with the wishes of the line firefighting personnel.
- Does suing the city solve the problem? Maybe in the short run, but remember the saying - you may have won the battle, but did you win the war? Probably not. I don't know about you, but I don't want to have gotten my job by suing the city just to get a chance at getting hired. When you typically work for a fire department for 20 to 40 years, something like this will be your reputation for your entire career, and even after you're retired. It will always be, "hey, remember that guy who sued the city just to get hired?" Sorry, but I'd rather be known for the more positive things I have accomplished in my career. I realize anybody can sue anybody for anything. But remember what happens if you win - where do you think the money to pay the lawyers and even pay you and anyone else comes from, should there be a monetary settlement? That money will probably come out of the city budget, which is meant to pay for the staffing's wages and benefits, keep fire stations open, etc. Just because you get the chance to apply now, it doesn't mean you'll even get hired (do you think they want to hire the person that sued them? Come on, get real - would you want to hire someone that sued you?).
- Regarding the comment of passing over numerous candidates who were "more qualified" because they were working for other fire departments; remember that the job announcement did not mention they were looking for "lateral transfers" or other experience. An interesting comment in the newspaper was that many people were in line wearing their fire department uniforms. I don't know about you, but if I were testing for another fire department, I wouldn't be wearing my fire department uniform. That just isn't cool, and doesn't show much respect or loyalty to the department you're planning on leaving.
- As for the term "qualified" candidate, that is a very subjective term. What constitutes being the most qualified candidate? The best resume? The most degrees? The most years of experience? Fire experience versus no fire experience? The most certificates? See where I'm going? What one person thinks makes someone the best-qualified candidate may drastically differ from another person's opinion. A fire department does not hire a resume - they hire a person. Just because someone does not have every certificate or degree out there or does not have a lot of years (or any for that matter) of fire experience does not mean they will be a bad hire or even "unqualified." In reality, a fire department should be hiring for a positive, can-do attitude, and for what they think will be a "good fit" for their department, their culture, and their community. I know that seems subjective, but think back to 20 years or more, when there really wasn't a push for candidates to have EMT certificates, paramedic licenses, and Firefighter 1 certificates, etc. Think of the veteran firefighters currently on the job, those with 20 plus years on the job. Most of them did not have those certificates or degrees. Yes, they typically came with experience from the trades, but the key is that they were trainable.
- As for lowering standards, the last thing I think a department should do is lower a hiring standard. Instead, we should try to bring the level of candidates up to our standard, to ensure the standards are not lowered. However, in this case, the city knew if they wanted to attract home grown talent, they might have to not require the two common things they have required over the last few years - an EMT or paramedic card. However, if I'm not mistaken, there was a stipulation that an EMT card was required by the start of the academy, so it wasn't like they were going to have to put the person through EMT school. At least they were up front in the news stories prior to the accepting of applications; they knew they needed diversity and if they required EMT or paramedic cards to apply, they might be limiting their diversity pool to choose candidates from. Good, bad or indifferent, it is what it is and a city has an obligation to it's community to do it's best to reflect the demographics of that community.
- As for not taking the first 1,000 applications, if you read the job announcement, it stated they would accept 1,000 applications. I didn't notice that they would take the first 1,000 - just 1,000. I realize that is vague and can be construed different ways, but if you read it carefully, they didn't violate what they said they would do.
- Regarding the process being B.S., welcome to reality. I'm not sticking up for what occurred, but no one fire department or city is perfect. There are always going to be mistakes made and unhappy people, especially when you limit the number of candidates. For anyone who works in public safety for more than a few years, you come to realize things are not always perfect and that there is always a better way to do something. Yes, maybe it was B.S., but what are you really going to do about it? It happened. Yes, you can be the one who is obviously frustrated and angry and bitter, but where is that going to get you in the long run? Nowhere, and your frustration, anger and bitterness will obviously show up at some point in the future, either during the hiring process or after you get hired (assuming you are fortunate enough to have that occur).