Avoiding Common Fire Academy Pitfalls

April 9, 2007
Recruits can be let go in the final weeks of the academy when they can't master basic skills.

It's tough enough to get a fire job. It can be tougher keeping it! The purpose of this article is to keep you from repeating the errors others have made keeping them from getting through the academy and gaining their badge pinned from a loved one at graduation.

Just because you passed the physical agility doesn't mean you are ready for the fire academy. Whether you agree or not, the physical agility has been watered down to be politically correct. Departments know this. So, the training division is going to put you through the wringer to make sure you can do the job before you go on line.

Showing up at the academy is not the time to start getting ready. You need to be in shape and hit the ground running. I often get calls from candidates asking what do I do now? They have been let go from the academy. It's tough enough getting a job. Keeping it can be a challenge. If you are let go by one department, it is going to be difficult if not impossible to get another department to take a chance on you.

"The worst mistake is to have the best ladder at the wrong wall." It's not just the physical part. You have to pass every segment of the academy including the final test to demonstrate you can function in the field. It's not uncommon to have a group of candidates let go in the final two weeks of the academy because they can't master ladder throws, repel or operate the equipment. More than one candidate has been let go because they couldn't start the chain saw, operate the jaws or struggled on the drill ground in the final test.

Nothing will piss of the training staff more than you telling them a better way to do something. How you did it in your FF1 academy, reserve or other department. The only task you need to focus on is how they do it in this department. Training divisions are their own kingdoms. This is not a democracy! You have no time or opinion.

It is devastating to be let go, especially if you have already been through a college fire academy. You have been dropped as your classmates are getting dressed up in their class A uniforms (about the only time they will ever wear it, except for funerals) heading for their badge ceremony.

It starts with instructors from the academy taking you aside and pointing out the problems you are having. If you don't improve, they will meet you again with other members of the training staff and document the meeting. The writing is on the wall if things don't improve. Candidates that get to this point start to panic. This can affect their other skills.

Things they already know and have mastered become difficult. Instead of dropping back and taking a different mindset, they start to panic and withdraw. Too many candidates in this situation would rather go below and fall on their sword before they will ask for help.

This is the time to ask for help, extra training, and check in with those who have gone before them. I usually get the call after they have taken the option to resign instead of being fired. My first question is why didn't you call me earlier? Well, I didn't think it was that bad.

Here are some of the incidents where candidates were let go: A candidate shows up at an academy overweight even though he knows they will run 3 miles a day, he can't. Result. They run him into the ground the first week. Another candidate is given an order to get a Philips screwdriver from the toolbox. After several minutes at the toolbox, he admits he doesn't know what a Philips screwdriver is. Hard to believe. Oh, I forgot, they have dropped the mechanical aptitude from the written and added in psych questions. Result: Lack of mechanical ability cost this candidate a badge.

Even though this candidate had been through two academies, he starts having trouble with ladder throws. He has done this successfully 100's of times. But, now he starts doing a mind screw on himself. It gets worse. He is counseled. Then again. Result: Booted from the academy. The good news is we worked with this candidate, regrouped, he got in better shape, worked out a reasonable explanation, accepting the blame, why it happened and would never happen again. He was picked up by another agency and is wearing a badge. Another recruit knew he had to lose weight for the academy. He did not reach his goal. His weight caught up with him trying to hump hose up the tower with a SCBA. Result: Got his marching orders because he didn't have the wind to complete this tough academy. Good news again. Regrouped, lost the weight and convinced a department with an easier academy he would be an asset.

Trying to come back and rejoin this candidate's academy too early after a drill tower accident only made the injury worse. When the recruit could not keep up and refused to accept the opportunity to go through the next academy was let go. Another one of those, why didn't you call me first beauties. Even a lawsuit did not regain a chance at a badge. A candidate did call me when he was having problems repelling off the tower. He would get upside down just before the net. A little mind drill exercise corrected the problem.

Getting through the academy and on line:

Captain Bob, Captain Rob
I am writing to inform you that I am a probationary Firefighter for a dream Fire Department and am relaxing at home on my first 4-day off. I worked hard, begged and borrowed for over five years in order to get a badge and not until I followed your instructions (tape recorder, video taping, and writing down my script) and got some coaching from Captain Rob did everything come together. Not only did I get this job, but I had to turn down some (4 to be exact) Chief's interviews during the academy from other fire departments. Please add me to the long list of people who have received a badge because of your help. I thank you and my family thanks you. You and Rob helped me with my preparation and direction going into my oral interviews. As I mentioned, not only did I get a job, I made it to the chief's interview every test that I took afterwards. Now I get to live the dream.
Respectfully, Fernando

"Nothing counts 'til you have the badge . . . Nothing!" Get a bonus when you sign up for our F-r-e-e Newsletter here. Over 300 pages of f-r-e-e information on our web site.

Fire "Captain Bob" Author of Becoming A Firefighter, Conquer Fire Department Oral Boards, and It's Your Turn in the Hot Seat! www.eatstress.com

About the Author

Bob Smith | Magazine Staff

Fire "Captain Bob" Smith has helped countless entry level and promotional candidates gain their badges. He is a retired 28-year Hayward, California Captain, speaker/author of the CD/DVD programs "Conquer the Job Interview," "It's Your Turn in the Hot Seat!," the books, "Becoming a Firefighter-The Complete Guide to Your Badge," "Fire Up Your Communication Skills" and "Eat Stress For Breakfast," which have been translated in 24 countries including South Korea, Latin America and China. He is a coach, publisher, author, and a rater on job interviews.

"Captain Bob" has gained experience from more than 175 oral boards. To date over 2,300 candidates have received their badges from his program. He uses simple tools to uncomplicate the process.

He incorporates his own experience gained from three successful start-up businesses, a 41-year marriage (29 years that were good according to his wife), education, and 20 of research. To learn more about his dynamic programs, services, newsletter and more than 250 pages of proven tips and free information visit his website at www.EatStress.com.

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