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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Not That Festive

Christmas came a couple days early to my house. This is because I picked up some overtime and worked Christmas Eve. I worked at station 42 which has an engine and truck company and a BC.

No. We were not this festive.

The morning was low key. We were on mandated holiday mode (yes, the fire chief actually put out an email saying that the crews were not to be doing projects or inspections or training....we were to be relaxing and enjoying the holiday). We ran a few calls and made a last minute trip to the grocery store. Thankfully the truck went and braved the crowds.

Early in the afternoon we started cooking. We were having a ton of food. Turkey and roast, potatoes (we peeled an entire 10 lb bag) and almost anything else you can think of for a holiday dinner. At 1500 hours family members started to show up. They would be trickling in over the next two hours. My wife and kids showed up just in time to see us tearing out of the station on a call.

We had 8 kids under the age of 7 running around the station. Luckily our station has a circular hallway and the kids were able to chase each other around and around. They also got to crawl all around, over and through the engine and the truck. My kids even got a ride with lights and sirens around the station (out the apparatus bay and then to the back of the station). That may not seem like much but to little kids it was awesome!

After dinner and cleaning up we grabbed some presents that had been bought by the regular crew there at the station. They had "adopted" a couple of low income families that didn't have much to give their kids for Christmas. We headed out and made a couple of deliveries hopefully brightening Christmas for a few kids and their parents.

To top it all off we slept through most of the night.

It was a good day to be a firefighter.

Merry (belated) Christmas.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

An Ounce...

'An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.' -Benjamin Franklin

One of the things I was asked about during my interview with the fire chief was my thoughts on prevention. I rattled off some different ways that fire departments are involved in fire prevention and how that has helped the community. I also talked about the future and how we may be part of the front line of prevention in EMS. A year later we were vaccinating people for the H1N1 virus.

The other day (ok....week) it was raining a lot. My captain noticed on his way in that there were several small boulders, each about 100 pounds, that had slid into the roadway. Fortunately it was Sunday and traffic was light. The other firefighter and I jumped into the Type 4 and headed up the road. We spent the next 30 minutes clearing the roadway.

I know that, except for the couple of people that passed us while we were working, no one knew what we were doing. There was no 911 call or complaint. It was just the fire department trying to make use of that ounce of prevention. Although I have to admit that the 'prevention' is a lot more boring than the 'cure.'

Monday, December 20, 2010

Ice Cream

In the fire service (and I'm sure in a lot of ambulance services as well) we have a weak spot for sugar. You know? Just like cops and their donuts. Our weakness is ice cream. Of all flavors and brands.

But it's more than just that. When a new firefighter has his first structure fire, he owes ice cream. For that matter, any time he has a first, he will owe ice cream. I remember one firefighter trying to get out of owing ice cream when his crew picked the flavor by saying that it was not his first. While this may have been true his crew had, by this point, decided on a flavor and were looking forward to it. You may as well stop a raging river with your bare hands as change their mind. The newbie was reminded that it was his first fire on that date with that crew. In other words, he owed ice cream.

Another time you owe ice cream is when you get your picture in the paper or if you're on the news. The problem here is, depending on how strict your agency follows this rule, you owe ice cream to every one that sees you. Luckily, in practice, this is usually contained to the one or two crews with whom you are closest. Everyone else just stays quiet about it.

There's another time you buy ice cream. Whenever you screw up. If you break a lamp while moving an unconscious patient, or run the wheels of the engine along the curb or anything of that nature, you owe ice cream.

The nice thing about this unwritten rule is that it applies to everyone. When a captain gets promoted to BC and has his first structure fire, he owes ice cream to all the crews there.

Anyways. I just thought you'd like to know one of the reasons that firefighters are often struggling with their waistline.

Friday, December 17, 2010

How To Become A Firefighter Part 6: The Chiefs Interview And Beyond

No Stress, right?

Deep breath. Remember. You've done this before and they liked you enough to pass you. Now you just have to sell yourself to the chief.

The same general principals apply to this interview as with any other. Remember to tailor your answers to your audience. If you're being interviewed by BC's remember that they are still line personnel. If you're being interviewed by anyone higher up than that they are paper pushers and number crunchers. They will want to know what you are going to bring to the organization. They may ask about community involvement or prevention programs. You need to be able to think a little bit deeper than just what a firefighter does on a day to day basis.

Have a good closing statement prepared. Remember to thank them when you're done.

Now that that is out of the way you're not done. When you get home you need to start getting everything together for a background check. You'll need names, addresses and phone numbers for family, friends, roommates, landlords and former employers. You need to have your work history down without any missing time periods. You will also need official copies of your birth certificate (otherwise how would they know that you were born?) and marriage certificate. Once you've done this for one department, make a copy of it all. That way you have all the information in one easy place.

Hopefully now you're on your way to being in the next fire academy. I hope that you're staying in great shape. One great way to prepare physically is to actually pull hose and swing an axe while in turnouts. If you don't have that ability, get a weighted vest.

Another thing. Most municipal departments run EMS calls. A lot of them. If they require you to have an EMT or medic license to apply expect a medical assessment exam. It's usually just a national registry skill so if you download the paperwork and practice going through each step you should have no problem. When I did my medic assessment while going through the process with my department we had several stations we had to go through. We had to assess and treat a pediatric patient for anaphylaxis, including drawing up and administering medications. We also had to intubate a mannequin and talk about everything we knew about Glucagon. Every department does theirs a little different.

For those of you that have the job, what did I miss? What tips/tricks helped you get hired?

Previously, More Station Visits

Thursday, December 16, 2010

How To Become A Firefighter Part 5: More Station Visits

Congratulations, you've passed the initial interview.

Now you need to shift gears and do a little more research. The initial interview is usually conducted by line personnel. In other words, the guys with whom you'll hopefully be working. They want to get to know you and see if you are the type of person that would fit in with their crew.

The interview with the chief is different. He's not going to be working with you on a daily basis. Because of this will want to get a different vibe from you. Will you be good for the department and the citizens that it serves? Are you worth the thousands, if not tens of thousands of dollars that they will have to invest in you to make you one of their firefighters?

So now you need to visit some more fire stations. Preferably stations with a BC. All the same guidelines that I talked about before apply here too. Talk to them about where the department is headed in the next 5-10 years. What major changes, if any, are going on. Talk about funding for the department. This is the time to get into the nuts and bolts of how the department is run and where it is going. Just like before, the more you know, the better.

If you can find a copy of the departments strategic plan, read it. It will let you know where the chief would like to take his organization over the next 5 years. If your applying to a municipal department, learn about the city. The elected officials, economics of the city, local cultures, annual city events etc. If you're applying to a county or state department you should do the same thing. At least as best you can.

Something else I forgot to mention before. Know the capabilities of the department. Find out if they have a HAZMAT, USAR, heavy rescue, boats, swift water team, technical rescue team, dive team, ice rescue team, air get the picture. Most department are pretty proud of their specialties. Stroke their egos. Learn target hazards. Those places that would be very bad if they were to go up in smoke. You know, oil refineries, hospitals and the like.

Again, if you know some chief officers at any department, active or retired, see if you can set up some mock interviews. Perfect practice makes perfect.

Next, The Chief's Interview And Beyond
Previously, The Interview

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

How To Become A Firefighter Part 4: The Interview

The day of the interview.

Show up early. Bring a resume, letters of recommendations, and copies of all certificates and licenses. Get a nice case to carry them all. They may not want any of it but it's better to have them and not need them than to have them ask if you have a copy of something and not to have it. Wear a dark suit and have the tie tied correctly.

This is the time for you to shine. Eye contact is a good thing. Sit up straight. If you can, remember the names of the members of your interview panel and use them. Remember to answer the question. In an interview that I had (it was a group interview with the fire chief) we were all asked which is more important for a career as a firefighter. to have a bachelor's degree or to have the ability to take apart a car engine and put it back together? Several candidates failed to simply answer the question. They said both were important. The problem is, that's not what was asked. They just wanted us to pick one side or the other and make a stand. I picked one and backed it up with my reasons. I got the job (although I'm sure that wasn't the only reason).

Remember that the panel is trying to get a good picture of who you are and how well you will fit into their organization. Be confident, but not cocky, and tell them why you'd be great for their department. This is a great time for you to show them how much you have learned about them from your research.

We recently had a young candidate come through our interview boards and when he was asked what he knew about our department he covered it all. Somehow he had even gone over our strategic plan for the next several years (which isn't online) and memorized points from there. He did very well on his interview. You could tell that he really wanted to job.

At the end of the interview make sure that you shake the hands of all the members of the interview panel and thank them for the opportunity. At some departments a couple of points will be added to your score if you do this.

Now go home and analyze what you said in your answers. Is there something that you could have said that would have been better? Remember, if it went well, you still have another interview. If not, you will have more interviews with other departments. Critique yourself and make improvements.

One last thing. Go back to the stations (and shift) that you visited previously (no need to make an appointment) and drop off some ice cream to say thank you for their help. Very few people do this but it makes a great impression.

Next, More Station Visits
Previously, Research

Monday, December 13, 2010

How To Become A Firefighter Part 3: Research

Congratulations. You've passed the written examination and have been invited to participate in the oral boards. Your interview is.....

Now what? Time to do some research. Firefighters are an opinionated bunch and we all think that our department is the best. We expect you to know why it is the best. We want to know why you want to work with us more than any other department. Now you and I know that this is complete BS. You want to work for a fire department. At this point, getting hired anywhere is better than working for the low wages on the box or worse. We know that you are applying everywhere but we want to know that you are willing to put in the time and energy to find out things about our department.

So how do you do this? First thing is to go to the department web page. Figure out all the information you can from there. It's not a bad idea to memorize some statistics before you meet anyone. Online forums (such as the ones found on firecareers, firejobs, or firefighter-jobs) are a good source too.

Once you've gathered all the information you can from the web schedule an appointment with one of the fire stations. When you visit, don't show up empty handed. Ice cream is a great idea. Make a list of information you would like to know and bring it with you. Write down their answers. If they offer you a meal, kindly refuse. If there is a project that they have to do while you're there, offer to help. Roll up your sleeves (go in a shirt and tie) and help. They will tell you not to bother but doing things like this make a very good impression. Don't just hang out at the station. Your visit has a purpose. Once it's done, move on. The more stations you visit, the better. Double houses and BC houses get you more exposure. You want to make a great impression so that when you see them on the interview panel they already have a positive outlook towards you.

That being said, it can also have the opposite effect. If the visit leaves a bad taste in the mouths of the guys at the station you've more or less shot your chances. We had a guy this last week just pop in to the station. We were off training until dinner time. So we came back to the station to find this candidate waiting for us. We were cordial and answered his questions. He just talked while we dried the rig (it was raining) and cooked dinner. My captain was nice enough to offer him dinner so he stayed and ate with us. We didn't plan on him being there and he didn't help cook/clean and didn't offer to pay for his portion. He knew almost nothing about our department and was overly confident. I don't know for a fact how he did on his interview but I know the story of his visit spread through at least our battalion faster than a wind driven wildfire.

Another thing to do is to have mock interviews with company/chief officers of a fire department. If you can do it with officers of the department for which you are testing so much the better.

In general, the more information you have on your prospective department, the better.

Next, The Interview
Previous, The Written Exam

Saturday, December 11, 2010

How To Become A Firefighter Part 2: The Written Exam

The next step is written exam.

How to prepare for the written exam. If you're not a good test taker get some help. Get a tutor, get an account with one of the online testing sites and practice. If you know that you have a weak spot, such as math, get help in that area as well. Take lots of tests. This means applying to a lot of departments. Maybe even some where you don't want to work. The written exam I took when I got hired was the exact same test that I had taken 3 previous time in the 6 preceding weeks. When I saw that it was the same test not only did I know exactly what to expect but I remembered most of the answers. It allowed me to take the test and then go over it a second time.

Things to remember on the day of the test. Be early and bring a couple of #2 pencils. I've never taken an exam where the department didn't have some extras but it would suck if that happened to you. Leave your cell phone in your car. One last thing on the written exam. Watch your time. Skip the answers you don't know and come back to them. Don't forget. If you do run out of time, guess. You miss 100% of those questions you fail to answer.

Next, Researching your department.
Previously, Whose Hiring

Friday, December 10, 2010

How To Become A Firefighter Part 1: Who's Hiring

My department is currently looking to hire new firefighters. This process, for the candidates, is usually long and full of opportunities to fail. Less than 1/3 of 1% of all wannabe career firefighters make it to their dream jobs (the rest become cops....kidding....sort of). I'm going to take you through each step of the process and give some of the pointers that I've picked up. I don't claim to be an expert but I did get the job.

The hiring process starts with the job announcement.

Get an account with one of the many websites, such as firecareers, that will let you know when departments are hiring. It's much easier to figure out which departments in your area are hiring and their minimum qualifications for applying.

As long as we're on the subject of minimum qualifications, figure out what type of department you want to work for and start getting yourself prepared. If you want to work for a department that does mostly wildland, focus on that. If you're trying to get hired on a department that does not have medics going through medic school is a waste of time. For the most part, departments in my area want you to have an EMT license and a firefighter 1 academy.

Now that you know a department is accepting applications, get one and fill it out. If it's not online than make sure you fill it out legibly. There are a lot of applications for HR to go through and if something is not legible they will usually just toss it out. If they require photocopies of any documents (make a check list so you don't forget to mail something in) be sure the copies are readable. I recommend going to Kinkos (sorry, it's now FedEx Office) and spending the money for a nice color copy. It's an investment. While you're there make more than one copy of each since you will probably need to do this again for the next department you apply to. Once it is all filled out send it in on time.

Next, The Written Exam.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Man Of Steel

My wife just couldn't help herself when she saw the shape of the log in the fireplace. What's funnier is she recorded it!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Double House

A double house in fire nomenclature is a fire station with two crews and two apparatus on duty at a time. The most common variation (but by no means the only one) of a double house is an engine and truck company.

Being stationed at a double house adds a different flavor to the job. Picture a family with 9 boys at home. There's a lot of energy, practical jokes, laughter, competition and of course, food. A lot of  food. Every once in a while tempers flare as well but that's a story for another post.

I was stationed at station 55, a double house. I was on the engine. One of my buddies (we were in the same academy class) was on the truck. We've always been at each other like brothers. We get along great but love giving each other a hard time. I've been fortunate enough in my career to have had a lot of fires. He, however, has not.

Recently I came back after working an OT shift at a station where I had a small structure fire. When I saw my friend I was sure to give him a hard time about getting another fire. So late in the morning when the tones went off dispatching the truck to a structure fire in the neighboring city he laughed at me as he donned his turnouts.

He got back about 3 hours later. He gave me a full report on his actions. They ventilated vertically and then pulled a lot of ceiling. He never actually was inside a burning structure. This distinction would be very important later on. While I was very happy that he got a fire I was a little jealous too. Fires don't happen every day, at least not where I work, and I always want to be on the next one. He had his moment just as I had had mine a couple of weeks before.

That evening the engine was toned out for a vehicle fire. While not a structure fire, a fire is a fire. I'd take it. I jumped into my bunker gear and climbed in the engine. Once in the rig I slipped into the shoulder straps of my SCBA. I grabbed the headset to let my engineer know that I was strapped in and ready to go. Just as we pulled up we were canceled by CHP. The car was not on fire. When we pulled back into the station my buddy was waiting to twist the knife that he had had a real fire and not a false alarm.

At 0210 the tones woke me up. We were being dispatched for another "vehicle fire" on the freeway. I repeated the process that I had done only a few short hours earlier. This fire was supposedly on the far edge of our area, over the hill.

As we rounded one of the corners headed down the back side of the hill my captain spotted the tell tale orange glow of a fire. All of the sudden having been awakened at 2 in the morning was worth it.

The next morning I was ready for some ribbing of my own. When I found my partner in crime I told him I had a question. I then proceeded to ask him why, after he had had a structure fire and I had just had a car fire, did my turnouts smell like smoke and his just smelled like sweat? He didn't think that was too funny. I then let him know about a guy with whom I worked at my last department. He had a similar problem of never being on shift when the fires happened. So we came up with a new title, which I passed on to my buddy, EMS fighter. You're only a firefighter if you actually fight fire, right? I just have to see if I can get a badge or a patch made up for him.

Saturday, December 4, 2010


For me, the worst time to get a call is around 0500.

The tones went off just after 5 in the morning. As I headed toward the engine I glanced at my watch. My heart sank a little as I realized that I was up for the day.

We headed to an apartment complex just a half block down from the station. The city streets were empty this early on a Sunday morning. When we arrived at the front door we found it open. I called out "fire department" and heard someone yell that they were upstairs.

On the second floor of the two bedroom apartment things were a little crowded. There were two families living here. My patient was on the floor in the kids room between the full size bed and the bunk bed.

Two of the kids awoke when they heard the 10 year old thrashing about. They woke mom up who then woke a dispatcher up (ok, she probably wasn't totally asleep) who in turn woke us up.

By the time that I knelt at his side my patient had stopped seizing. One of the older kids said that he shook for about 2 minutes (which means it was actually about 30 seconds). My patient had no injuries or oral trauma from the seizure. He wasn't feverish, and, per the mother, had no history of seizures, didn't use drugs and hasn't had a head injury recently.

We placed him on some oxygen to help bring him out of his postictal state and then check his sugar. By the time AMR arrived he was opening his eyes and looking around in confusion. After a couple of minutes he was able to walk down the stairs.

Finally we head back to the station to start the morning routine: pot of coffee on, grab the paper, check staffing to see who is coming in this morning, take a shower and grab breakfast. Once all that is done we hand over the reins to the next crew.

Time to go home.
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