The rock band Bon Jovi has a song titled "Keep the Faith." I think this song hits the mark when it comes to preparing to become a firefighter or preparing for promotion in the fire service. Faith can mean different things to different people, depending on your religious beliefs. However, this article is not about religion, it is about getting yourself to the rank you desire in the fire service. This article is also about remaining positive and upbeat, staying hopeful, and keeping the faith you will get hired or promoted in the fire service. Let's not stop there though; let's kick it up a notch and actually not just talk the talk, but walk the walk! Too many people keep the faith and expect good things to happen without doing anything to make those happen. Faith is ok, but you have to add some action to those words or thoughts. The badge will not just fall out of the sky and land on your uniform shirt, you must earn it!
In life, we have two options - we can think positively or we can think negatively. We can hope for the best or hope for the worst. We can remain upbeat or we can be depressed. I would rather think positively and hope for the best, but also plan for the worst case scenario. Back up plans or plan b's, plan c's, etc., are worth their weight in gold. If you properly prepare yourself, make plans, make back-up plans, set goals and objectives, work hard, remain focused and motivated, and do not give up, your chances for successfully getting hired or promoted in the fire service will greatly increase.
Too many people rely on faith and luck for good things to happen. I believe faith and luck do play some role in everything good that occurs in our lives. However, I also believe there is more to success than just faith and luck. I didn't get hired in the fire service because of faith or good luck. I got hired because of my hard work, commitment, motivation, persistence, tenacity, and numerous hours of preparation, including education, training and experience (just to name a few items). I didn't get promoted to captain the first time I took the promotional examination because of faith or good luck. I got promoted because of hard work, commitment, motivation, tenacity, persistence and numerous hours of preparation, including education, training, and experience (just to name a few items).
Whether you are preparing to get hired or promoted, I encourage you to do the following things (at the bare minimum), besides just keeping the faith, remaining positive or hoping luck will be on your side, to ensure your success:
- Obtain some formal education. Get that two-year degree in fire technology and then work towards your four-year degree in anything, and don't forget to complete both at some point of your career, preferably before you get hired. Whether you want to get hired or promoted, education is very critical to your success. This is especially important if you are close to finishing up a degree, but are not there yet. Don't waste any more time - get those remaining classes completed a.s.a.p., so you can move on to other things and not get saddled with additional catalog requirements when you change your mind in the future, many years down the road (which happens too many times, and to more people than I want to mention.
- Obtain some life experience. The fire service is hurting for entry level candidates and even promotional candidates with life experience. I take it a step to even getting promoted because many of the people who are looking to promote have only been on the job a few years, and may even have been hired with minimal life experience. There are so many things you can do to obtain life experience. Be able to have successful experience working with your hands, working with tools, solving problems, making decisions, providing customer service, understanding what hard work means, performing basic skills around the house such as cooking, cleaning, performing yard work, doing basic automotive repair and maintenance, conserving energy, and working within a budget. All of those skills are necessary as a firefighter, and we do not want to spend valuable time trying to teach you things you should already have been taught by your parents or guardians, long before we hired or promoted you.
- Learn how to master the testing game. You can have the best resume in the world, but if you cannot successfully pass all phases of the hiring or promotional process, you'll never get to the next step - the position or promotion you desire. Study the written test material to ensure you get a score in the high 90 percentile. Practice your oral interview skills to ensure you score in the high 90 percentile. Clean up your background, and do not plan on barely passing the other phases of the process. We don't want to hire or promote marginal people that just barely pass the process. We want to hire or promote overachievers, folks with a passion for the fire service and for serving the public, and folks that do very well on the hiring or the promotional process. Show your department you are someone that does not just strive for the bare minimum, but goes above and beyond in everything they do. Know how to sell your education, education, and experience, as well as your knowledge, skills and abilities to the oral board and to the department.
- Make sure you meet the minimum requirements. I have seen too many people not get to take firefighter entrance examinations or promotional examinations because they did not meet the minimum qualifications. What are you waiting for? That information is not top secret. If you do not meet the minimum qualifications, you better do what it takes to meet those qualifications. Start researching different departments (as well as your own department) to see what those entrance or promotional requirements are to apply.
- Make sure you get as many of the desirable qualifications as you can. Some times you will see desirable qualifications stated in a job announcement, some times you will not. It does not take a genius to figure out what the desirable qualifications are to get hired or promoted within a certain department. Talk to the firefighters, company officers and chief officers. Find out what the fire chief looks for, what many of the past successful candidates have had in the way of "above and beyond" qualifications. Before long, you will start seeing patterns. Very few people get hired or promoted with nothing to offer in the way of education, training or experience.
- Remember it is a full-time job getting hired or promoted in the fire service. I firmly believe getting hired or promoted in the fire service is a full time job. You have to live, eat, sleep and breathe getting hired or promoted. You have to put yourself in the position you aspire to and start thinking that way, every day and in every action or move you make. Do not just prepare for the test, prepare for the position, prepare for the long haul, and prepare for your career longevity and success!
Nobody else can make you happy but yourself. Nobody else can motivate you but yourself. Nobody else can get you hired or promoted in the fire service but yourself. Keep the faith that you will get hired or promoted in the fire service, but make sure you are doing something to actually make it happen!
Steve Prziborowski is a 14-year veteran and student of the fire service and is currently serving as an Acting Battalion Chief for the Santa Clara County,CA, Fire Department. Other positions Steve has held at the Santa Clara County Fire Department include: Firefighter/Engineer, Firefighter/Engineer-Paramedic, Fire Captain, Training Captain, and Operations Captain. Additional responsibilities include serving or having served as an on-call Safety Officer, an on-call Public Information Officer, and an on-call Fire Investigator.
Steve is also an instructor within the Chabot College (Hayward, CA) Fire Technology Program, where he has been instructing fire technology and EMS classes for 13 years. Four and a half years were also spent as the Fire Technology Coordinator, and seven years were also spent as the EMT Program Director and Primary Instructor.
Steve is an Executive Board member for the Northern California Training Officers Association, currently serving as the First Vice President, and scheduled to be the President in 2007. Steve is a state-certified Chief Officer, Fire Officer, Master Instructor, and Hazardous Materials Technician, as well as a state-licensed paramedic. Steve has an associate degree in fire technology, a bachelor's degree in criminal justice, and a master's degree in emergency services administration.
Steve also provides a free e-mail mailing list and publishes a free monthly newsletter (The Chabot College Fire & EMS News); both are geared toward better preparing the future firefighter for a career in the fire service and the current firefighter for promotion, and are available on his website at www.chabotfire.com.