Develop Your Plan
I ran into an aspiring firefighter yesterday and I was blown away at his lack of insight to prepare for a career in the fire service. Let me give a little background. In my region of the country roughly 70% of fire departments require a State certified basic fire academy PRIOR to being hired. In other words, just to take the entry level exam you must have completed a 12 – 14 week basic fire academy that is held at one of the local junior colleges.
Even the departments that do not require an academy recognize the value of them as the candidates who have completed one usually score higher than those who have not. Simply put, if you are learning the parts of a ladder, ladder commands, as well as how to balance it for the first time in a fast paced fire department academy, you will be well behind those who have already learned them. The same applies for hose lays, ventilation, auto extrication, ropes and knots and every other subject you can think of. Most importantly, with a high failure rate for many fire department’s structured entry level academy, we are all looking for candidates who we believe will be successful. In the end, we all are impacted when a candidate fails out of the academy. We need to fill vacancies on the fire engine. When we hire someone and he or she is not successful in the training period, we need to reevaluate our selection process.
So, in speaking to this candidate he was elated to inform me that he had just completed an AS degree in Fire Science. Additionally, he was accepted to the local junior college fire academy (to begin in 2 weeks). At 23 years old he is well on his way. Couple this with three years on an ambulance and his profile is really beginning to shape up. In the next six months he will be 24 years old, a fire academy graduate, have an AS degree and have three years’ experience on an ambulance that runs first in 911 calls.
So far so good, right?
Imagine my surprise when he told me that he had applied to a different ambulance company and that he would start in three weeks if he was awarded the job. When I asked him how he was planning to start a new job in the middle of the academy, he looked at me with a blank look and stated that he was planning to quit the academy.
I asked him why in the world he would drop out of the academy to which he responded, “It’s a really great company to work for.” Dumbfounded I reminded him that most of the local departments required a fire academy. He said proudly that he has just earned his AS degree and that this would make him more marketable. I explained to him that an AS degree was worthless without the academy. He looked at me with a blank look and said, “Thank you, I had completely lost sight of my plan.”
My advice to you is to write down your plan. Periodically review and revise your plan. Experts say that those who write down goals and develop a plan of how to achieve them are much more successful than those who do not.
I completely agree with everything you just said. What if there are those who are in an area that don't have a college that offers FF1&2, or and academy? Or if they choose to be in a Paramedic degree program, with a goal of firefighting as a career? I was an EMTB in AZ for a year working on a busy ambulance, and a reserve FF before joining the Navy as a Corpsman (medic) gaining very good training. My goal has always been to work in the fire service even before wanting to serve my country. I am out now and about to test for 2 big depts. A lot of these depts put on their own academy. Would this be a good start/plan too?
Thanks for all of the great posts you always have!
First and foremost, thanks for serving OUR country. My peers and I really look highly on those who have served in the military. In fact, we don’t expect military men and women to have as many certifications etc (wall paper) when compared to those who have not served. Simply put, you were busy protecting our county while others had the opportunity to go to school. Having said that, a military person who has comparable certifications and education to the rest of the group often goes to the front of the line.
To answer your question directly, I will tell you that it is important to do your research for your region of the country. For those areas that do not have a fire science or a basic fire academy, it is an unreasonable expectation by the local department that an entry level candidate will present these. Having said that, a candidate who does have these will usually stand above the rest of the crowd.
In regards to a department putting new hires through an academy, it is a fallacy that a candidate does not need to put him or herself through a basic fire academy. My current department requires a basic academy to take the entry level exam. My previous department did not and ran new hires through a 16 week academy. The academy had a 35% failure rate in the entry level academy. Our unwritten rule was that those who had a previous academy fared better than those who had not. In other words, the success rate for someone who had already been through a basic academy is much higher than someone who had not (see my comments above).
Your question about paramedic school is a good one. Possession of a Paramedic license certainly places you in a unique position. Most departments are interested in a licensed paramedic. It saves us roughly 100K (we have to pay the firefighter’s salary while in school and we also have to pay time and one half to fill his or her shifts on the engine).
Lastly, working on a busy BLS ambulance running first in 911 calls is a huge career developer since 85% of the calls we respond to are EMS related. This is also a major prerequisite (if it isn’t in your area, it should be) to get into Paramedic school.
Good luck on your exams!
Thank you very much for taking the time to reply. Very insightful and helped out a lot!