We Are The Fire Alumni29 November 2014 Written by By Bob Atlas, Judon Cherry, And Brian Helmick
Published in December 2014 Articles
Like other members of our profession, we are driven by a spirit of servant leadership that is most apparent by our willingness to put ourselves in harm’s way on behalf of the citizens,
businesses, and public institutions who depend upon us. There comes a special moment for each of us in this profession when we prepare to leave for a shift and embrace the Most Important Person in our lives with a passion made intense by the knowledge that we are not 100 percent guaranteed of returning home safely. Nevertheless, we are grateful to belong to this noble profession. When we were children, it seemed that most of us dreamed of one day becoming a firefighter. Years later, some of us realized that in many ways firefighting is a sensible career choice. The element of risk lends a certain appeal to the profession — a sense of standing shoulder-to-shoulder with brothers and sisters, overcoming fears, and doing something truly worthwhile. After all, how many jobs afford opportunities of actually performing some act that others might come to regard as heroic?
The fact is, it doesn’t take too many months on this job for the sense of heroism to become muted, but most of us never get over the satisfaction that comes from saving a family’s home, someone’s place of business, or perhaps even saving a life. At those times we often have a sense of fulfillment and might even experience a feeling of gratitude for being put in a place where we are able to make that level of difference in a community or in an individual life.
The Difficult Pathwa y To Employment
Because the firefighter profession has this kind of appeal, it isn’t difficult to find candidates for any open position. Each job opening will attract as many as 2,000 hopeful applicants. The challenge from the department’s point-of-view is to identify the most qualified candidates out of that mass of applications. On the other hand, the challenge for highly qualified candidates is to attract the attention of the hiring staff and to actually move forward through the process. Fire Alumni provides assistance in responding to both challenges.
Hiring and promotion issues, which are important in any organization, become essential in the case of a fire department because it must be able to hire personnel who are fully equipped to enter the profession and to ensure that each promotion through the ranks be given to the individual most qualified for leadership. After all, when we advance a fire hose towards a building in flames, we can’t simply hope that the person who was responsible for shutting off the electricity actually did so. When we enter a burning home, we have to be confident that our mates are highly qualified to have our back.
People in our field must maintain a sense of professional competence and a certainty that if things begin falling apart, we will not become panicky or anxious. There are times when all of us have been frightened but fear becomes “the father of courage” as we focus upon the job at hand and the need to remain a functioning part of the firefighting team. Maintaining excellence at every level in this business is a requirement rather than an option because any failure of nerve or ignorant mistake may result in unnecessary damage to property or even loss of life.
Landing a job as a fire fighter is more difficult than getting hired at MacDonald’s. In order to ensure hiring the best and the brightest, fire departments move job seekers through a rigorous process, which begins by candidates signing up online to become listed in the hiring pool. Applicants who meet minimum qualifications are then invited to take a written test. Successfully passing the exam qualifies them to take a physical abilities test. Candidates who pass the physical test are invited in for oral interviews during which department representatives attempt to determine whether a given candidate actually possesses the attitude, temperament, and strength of character to become a genuine asset to the department.
Candidates who clear that hurdle are placed on an eligibility list that is rank-ordered according to the interviewers’ perception of how close each candidate came to embodying firefighter ideals and requirements. Then, when a position opens up, department representatives will invite the candidates in the upper echelons of the list to interview with the department chief or a designate of his/ her choosing. A candidate who passes that hurdle will be offered the position depending upon the outcome of a final background investigation, a psychological interview, and medical screening. If all lights are still green, the candidate will be invited to attend the academy.
Ensuring Fairness And Quality
Even though the selection process is rigorous, it doesn’t necessarily identify the most capable candidates. People interested in becoming a firefighter have often taken community college classes. They have gained some knowledge about the industry but still have no grasp of how the inner details concerning the hiring process actually work. As a result, candidates may wash out for reasons that have nothing to do with their capabilities. Perhaps they didn’t understand the guidelines, for example, or misunderstood the instructions.
The goal of Fire Alumni is to enlarge the pool of truly well prepared candidates. We do more than simply prepare individuals to pass tests; we help them understand the process. We increase candidates’ sense of who they are, and equip them to better communicate the particular skills and talents they bring to the table. Their increased sense of self-awareness helps move them towards the servant leader ideal. We enable candidates and junior firefighters to thoroughly embrace the values of integrity, courage, and commitment. Rather then simply getting a job in public safety, we lay the groundwork for them becoming real firefighters.
Fire Alumni has broken down the processes of hiring and advancement into their constituent elements, making the tasks as simple and as easy to understand, as possible. For example, we work with Fire Police Selection Incorporated, a Sacramento Company that writes, validates, and administers public safety exams. They are the experts, so we partner with them on educating candidates on how to prepare for exams. We offer private coaching, helping applicants with their resumés, for example, and assisting fire fighters to secure advancement to captain and then to battalion chief by offering classes in such things as Incident Command and Incident Management. We include training in as many areas of concern, as possible. For example, bad credit is a red flag, so we are working with the San Francisco Police Credit Union to help create a video geared to people in public safety on how to manage money.
One important avenue of service of FiremAlumni is to provide communication channels enabling experts to share their areas of expertise with the men and women on the ground who need to learn what they know. We bring the experts to the students and the students to the experts.
Throughout the year we sponsor a series of single-day events that bring candidates and junior firefighting personnel into direct contact with these experienced professions. Each fall we sponsor a Firefighter Candidate Camp.
People from all over the country are beginning to take advantage of our services. Last April, we were honored to be chosen as presenters at the Fire Department Instructor’s Conference (FDIC), which is the nation’s largest conference of its type; people are starting to pay attention. We are engaging affiliates to help partner with us and have a presence on such websites as firecareers.com and careersingovernment.com.
Firefighting technology continues to advance and we make it our purpose to remain at the forefront of the changes taking place, constantly altering the content of our presentations in order to remain ahead of the technology curve. We are beginning to multiply our efforts by employing Internet technology and social media. Judon Cherry has taken charge of that part of our business as our new media producer. He is working with a videographer, Chris Eldridge, and a graphic designer, Dustin Robinson, to ensure that the quality of our distribution channels are melding video production with educational principles to create an “edutainment” delivery system designed to capture the attention of young audiences, since social media is where they are going for information.
We have been coordinating our efforts with a number of colleges that offer classes in Public Safety, and are creating a module designed for use in college-level Public Safety courses. Each March we host a Firefighter Candidate Conferencesm on a stage in the Mertes Center For The Performing Arts at Livermore’s Las Positas College in cooperation with Ron Johansson the school’s Fire Program Coordinator. Our most recent event involved a number of fire chiefs and other experienced fire officers, each of them speaking for 20 minutes on some aspect on how to get into the industry. We created a video of the event that included some compelling production values, and made samples of it available to attract candidates to our program on digital downloads and DVDs.
Our activities in promoting Fire Alumni are part of the servant leader model that the three of us embrace with all our hearts and minds. We are passionate about helping others succeed — to get the job of their dreams or the promotion that they have been hoping for. Their success is our success. In the end, their success is the only measure we care about.