By Battalion Chief Paul Lepore
Candidates who have served our country in the Armed Forces have a huge advantage over those who have not. It is generally believed that while a military veterans may not have as many certificates and fire science units as the other candidates (they were busy serving our country), they offer so much more.
There is no substitute for life experience. The personal growth a young man or woman experiences in the military is second to none. This growth is of course magnified depending on the assignments held. Many of those who joined the military at a young age grew up very rapidly when put into dangerous situations.
Being assigned to the front line is not required to get “credit” for serving in the military. Fire departments realize that there are many support roles that require dedication and commitment. While there is only one person on the nozzle that puts out the fire, there are numerous other assignments that need to take place on the fire ground. It is important that a firefighter be willing to work in a support role for the good of the team.
The fire service is a para-military organization. Many of the common terms in the fire service, such as Captain and lieutenants were taken directly from the military. Words like code, honor, commitment, and integrity are as important to the fire service as they are to the military.
Men and women with military backgrounds are usually very mature, regardless of their age. They understand the need to get along with others, especially with people who come from different backgrounds from them. They understand commitment and the need to work until the job is completed. They are used to working for long periods of time in less than ideal conditions.
Physical fitness is emphasized in the military. As a result military men and women are usually in very good shape. This is extremely important to the fire service, because the number one reason entry-level candidates fail out of the academy is due to poor physical fitness. In addition, a physically fit firefighter will miss less time due to injury than a firefighter who is not fit. Military personnel have been taught the importance of a life-long physical fitness program and the importance of proper diet. These good habits will be shared with the firefighters in the station.
Military people demonstrate respect for authority and understand the chain of command. The fire service operates on the same hierarchy principle as the military. The group clearly understands code and honor. These qualities are extremely important in the fire service, because firefighters are held to a higher standard than the average person in the community.
Military men and women are used to working in a structured environment. They understand the importance of doing something right the first time. Similar to the fire department, people’s lives are impacted if things are not kept in a constant state of operational readiness. Firefighters must check out their equipment each and every day. They must know the intricacies of each tool kept on the engine or truck. Training and continuing education are essential to the fire service. It is imperative that firefighters are able to work unsupervised; completion of a job or task is a reflection of them.
Getting along in the fire station is critically important to being successful in the fire service. Courtesy to fellow firefighters is critical. Cleaning up after one self is expected. This is one of the first things military men and women learn in Basic Training.
One of the strengths found in military men and women, however, is also commonly a cause of strife during their probationary year. People who have earned rank in the military are used to giving orders. As a rookie firefighter you are expected to take orders, not give them. Humility is an extremely important quality to possess as a rookie firefighter. Oftentimes rookie firefighters who have spent time in the military are older than the average candidate.
It is not uncommon for an older probationary firefighter to be working under the tutelage of a much younger senior firefighter, engineer, or even lieutenant or captain. If the rookie firefighter does not have the proper mind set, he or she will be in for a difficult probationary year.
If you are still in the military and are interested in a career in the fire service, it is important that you start making provisions NOW. Start taking online classes NOW.
If possible, put yourself in a position to get fire service-related training such as Medic or Corpsman. Hazardous Materials and firefighter training will also be beneficial. Lastly, work on general education courses so you can earn your Associates degree.
Do not be intimidated by all of the candidates who have every certification under the sun. They were able to obtain these as full-time students while you were busy fulfilling your continuous to the American people. A candidate who is an EMT, possesses related experience as a reserve or volunteer firefighter, and is active taking fire science courses is usually at the top of his or her game. Get your qualifications, learn how to take a fire department interview, and earn your badge.