I am having a lot of trouble figuring out what my 4 year major is going to be. I realized that with the economy right now it is very hard to get a job without a degree. When I was in my fire program, the instrutor asked if whomever have a 4 year degree raised their hands, and nearly half of the class raised their hands. This led me to realized that my competition have more advantage than I do because of their 4 year degree. So I was wondering what is the best major to have for the 4 year degree to promote in the fire service?

Reply:

I wonder how many hands would have been raised if he had asked how many are paramedics?

Remember, You're Just a Rookie

Iíve coached several candidates who have had B.S./BA degrees in Public Administration areas. They have been misguided by counselors that said this would be an asset to get into the fire service. What ends up happening is these candidates show up at an entry-level oral board boasting and trying to hammer the board with their degree. What they donít understand is most on the other side of the oral board table has or will ever obtain this degree. And most of these candidates will ever have a chance to use it in the fire service. Can you get hired going the education route? Sure. It happens all the time. Many of our non-medic candidates just started the LA City Academy.

An associate sent me this information from a fire officer who instructs Fire Protection or Fire Management programs at California State University Los Angeles. With the subject of wanna-bees desiring to get their BA/BS degrees confirmed what you and I already know about candidates in interviews showing up with BA/BS degrees. And that is they get either laughed out of the room or the interview panel becomes resentful and down goes the interview score! DUH!

This from a SF candidate: I'm currently on the SFFD H-2 list "4th Generation hopefully SFFD"! I'm also a volunteer firefighter/EMT. My volunteer Fire department requires Paramedic certifications for entry-level firefighters. After graduating from a four year university... I had an administration internship with my volunteer department where I wrote and designed the District's Master Plan and preformed statistical analysis for "time respond" for Fire suppression and medical calls. I also went on ride alongs with the engine, truck and even with the chief himself. I was told by the chief, if I went out to get my paramedic license... I would be hired on the spot. Becoming a paramedic is not my cup of tea... it's been beaten in my head as a child "from my grandfather and father" to be a firefighter not a medic... ! All of the paid firefighters like my work ethic and all say they should let me in as a Firefighter/EMT.

My reply: With all due respect to your family members, the playing field has changed. It must be killing you to see these guys hired and it's not you. Like it or not, understand that 75%+ of calls are medical in nature. Eighty percent of the job offerings are for fire medics. Had you gone to medic school as I encourage candidates to do, gained the valuable in service medic street time, you wouldn't be trying to fight your way into a department as an EMT. You would be wearing the H-3 badge for SFFD (I'm 3rd generation San Franciscan myself) or another department.

John came in for a coaching session after not being able to pass any oral boards. He was one of those candidates who I think was misguided into a Public Administration Degree. During his coaching, he kept trying to come back to his degree. I finally told him, "Screw you! You want to come into my oral board and try to hammer me with a degree you may never use?" Youíre applying for a snotty nose rookie position as a firefighter!" John dropped his head and said, "Maybe thatís why I canít get through any orals."

John ended up going to paramedic school (which he should have already done instead of the B/A degree). Although he mentioned the B/A degree in his oral board answer "What have you done to prepare for this position" he focused on his personal life and paramedic experience. He got his badge!

I believe in education. If you want to get a Public Administration, Engineering or any other degree as a career track, great. Donít think it will be the key to get into the fire service. It could hurt you.

I look for the shortest distance to the badge. If I were starting out, I would run to paramedic school. Yes, you can get on without it. I have candidates all the time who get a badge without being a medic. But for the time spent and with more than 80% of job offerings being fire/medic, the odds are better.

Many departments have educational incentive programs where they will pay you to go to school. I took advantage of this program and received an additional 5% pay. This 5% was included in my retirement.

Heed these warnings if youíre considering becoming a paramedic to get into the fire service:

As Paul Lepore, Captain, has said:

Many EMTís get their ďexperienceĒ for paramedic school by transporting elderly patients to and from convalescent hospitals. While this is an admirable service they are providing, this is not preparing you for the rigors of a paramedic internship.

Believe me that it is extremely difficult to be on top of your game as a paramedic trainee when you are working on a shooting victim, extrication, severe shortness of breath or chest pain patient when you have minimal experience as an EMT. It is overwhelming to expect a candidate to run the call, give directions to the crew and know the medication and transportation protocols when they are seeing the call for the first time.

If they don't step up and take charge, the firefighters will step in and take over the run. It makes it even more difficult since over 1/2 of my department is currently certified or was a paramedic.

Once you get your feet knocked out from underneath you, it can be difficult to recover. This is especially true when you are running 20 calls per shift on the rescue.

Will it help you become a firefighter YES, WITHOUT A DOUBT? The problem is that these candidates are being told that it's a breeze. I see one candidate after another being terminated during their internship. It breaks my heart to see their dream come to an end because someone gave them the wrong advice.

If someone has a wealth of EMT experience and is extremely comfortable with their EMT skills and has taken a course on EKG's and anatomy and physiology, then I say go for it! If there is any doubt, I strongly recommend doing some soul searching.


This from firefighter Chris Bertrand:

I hope I can throw in my humble opinion amongst those who have a lot more whiskers than me. Your education will take you a long way, but there is no substitute for field experience. If the medic route is the one you decide to take, spend the time working as an EMT but steer clear of ambulance companies that only run interfacility transfers. All you do is take sick people from one hospital to another. You get no on-scene experience.

There are a few ambulance companies who have 911 contracts with local fire departments. This is the difference. If you want to be a firefighter/medic, you need to be exposed to countless emergencies to prepare yourself mentally. Being book smart is one thing, but on an emergency everyone is counting on the medic to make heads up decisions when the chips are down. This comes naturally for very few people. For others it takes some getting used to and the best way to get used to it is by being exposed to it. For others, it never comes. Before you commit yourself to medic school, work for one of these companies that run 911 calls.

As the EMT, you will only be expected to assist the medics. This way you will be able to see how they think and how to make good decisions under pressure, which as I am sure you know is also critical to being a good firefighter. If you are lucky, the fire/medics may take you under their wing and help you prepare for medic school. If you try to go directly to medic school from EMT school, you will fall apart during your field-testing because it is very intense. If you donít make it through the field portion, you fail, and all of your preparation is wasted.

I was accepted to UCLA Daniel Freeman Paramedic Program. Two weeks later I was hired by a fire department. I took the job and did not go to medic school. I felt I was ready and the L.A. County medics told me I was ready. I think my experience with them made all the difference. Good luck in making your decision.



"Nothing counts 'til you have the badge . . . Nothing!"

Fire "Captain Bob"

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