You've worked your tail off to obtain the career you've always wanted - a firefighter working for your dream department! Countless hours spent away from family members. Countless hours studying and preparing for every phase of the hiring process. Countless miles spent driving to different cities to take written tests, oral interviews, physical ability tests, and to visit fire stations to get more information on how to prepare yourself for a firefighter position with that department. Countless dollars spent on gas, fire service books and publications, and education / training.
All of it paid off; you obtained the badge of a firefighter with your dream department! Then, all of a sudden, out of nowhere, you are released during the recruit academy or the probationary process. You're devastated! Your whole world has crashed down upon you! What will I do now you say?
Let me begin by saying this article is not meant to be negative. It is meant to be an eye-opener for you to learn from to ensure you do not find yourself in the same position. Getting terminated from a fire department does not mean you will never be hired by another fire department, but the cards are really stacked against you at this point. I have personally known people to get terminated during the academy and/or probationary period and then get rehired as firefighters for other fire departments. It is not impossible to get rehired by another department; it is just not as easy as it sounds. Learn from the mistakes and misfortunes of others so that you do not find yourself in the same position!
In no specific order, here are seven reasons why people resign, leave, fail out of the fire academy, or are terminated during probation:
1. Poor physical condition during the academy- If you are not in excellent physical shape prior to starting the academy, don't expect to be successful!
2. Immaturity - I don't think this was too much of a problem until about the last 10 years or so. In my opinion, this is because many candidates used to come into the fire academy with military experience and/or life experience. This is just not the case today. I was hired into my first firefighter position at the age of 27. While I wish I could have been hired at a younger age (so I could retire at an earlier age), I do think it worked out for the better. In that time frame from when I was 18 until I was 27, I had the chance to finish my A.A. Degree, my B.S. Degree, my Paramedic license, my Firefighter 1 certificate, take countless firefighter tests, and also experience what it was like having to live on my own and pay for my bills (as opposed to having to rely on mom and dad). During this entire time, I also worked full-time to not only pay the bills, but also prove to a fire department that I understood responsibility,
3. Injury - If you experience an injury (especially one that causes you to miss any time from the academy) don't expect them to guarantee you a position in the next academy! I have known candidates that have experience injuries during the academy that have made them lose their positions in the academy, due to their inability to complete the academy. Some of those individuals have been lucky enough to have been offered a position in the next academy. They better appreciate that kind gesture for the rest of their career! To the best of my knowledge, a department is not obligated to keep you if you get injured during the academy.
In many fire departments, the probation period doesn't even begin until you have completed the academy. Injuring yourself during probation and after completing probation is usually not an issue if the injury occurred on the job. However, doing something stupid off duty and injuring yourself (even after probation) can potentially cost you your job if you run out of sick leave and/or long-term disability. Choose your actions and hobbies wisely!
4. Background check reveals more information after hiring - When you complete a job application as well as a background packet, there is usually a spot at the bottom where you have to sign it and date it. Most applications and background packets also have wording to the effect of "any falsifications or misrepresentations are grounds for not getting hired and/or termination once you are on the job." Be honest!
5. Unable / unwilling to follow orders or follow the chain of command - This isn't rocket science. The fire service is still a paramilitary organization and will probably continue being one for many years to come. Get used to it and make the best of it. You might not think of your Captain giving you an order when you are asked to clean the bathrooms, but in reality it is. One of the things that really frustrates me is when I ask a firefighter to do something (which doesn't have to be done at this moment, just by the time we get off duty in the morning) and I either have to ask them to do it a second time or I find out the next shift through some other means that the request was never followed through. Do your job; it isn't that difficult! Don't make your Captain feel like they are a babysitter.
6. On duty and off duty personal conduct (including Alcohol and Drug usage, Arrest and/or convictions) - I know of a recruit that had just finished his academy midterm and went out drinking with some classmates. He didn't make it home that night because he had the privilege of spending the night in the county jail after getting pulled over for driving under the influence. He didn't make it back to finish the academy either because the department decided they were going to cut their losses and let him go. Even if the person was off of probation, his job still might have been in jeopardy. Many people forget that most fire departments require all members to always have in their possession a current driver's license.
If you get your driver's license suspended, you run the risk of termination or loss of pay (depending on the memorandum of understanding/agreement and/or the department rules and regulations). Also, if you get arrested, and you cannot make your scheduled work day, most departments will consider it to be abandoning your job - something else that is grounds for termination. Remember that you can't hide getting a D.U.I. (or other traffic related violations) because most departments participate in the DMV pull system which means the department will be notified of any traffic related incidents you are involved in.
7. Poor academic performance in the academy - Most academies require a recruit to keep an 80% average on the written examinations that are administered almost daily and to pass the final written examination with a score of at least 80%. Many candidates say "I don't do well on written tests, but I do great at the physical hands-on stuff." Well, that might be fine and dandy, but if that is the excuse that you are using because you don't do well on written examinations, you need to find a way to increase your scores! As a firefighter, you will be taking written examinations throughout your career (promotional examinations, EMT continuing education, annual training classes / mandates, etc.) so you better do what you have to do to get better at them.