Becoming a firefighter is quite a process and always has been. The testing has taken many forms over the years. When I tested in the early 80s it was so grueling I vomited following the physical agility test and had to sit in my car for 10-15 minutes before I could drive.
The physical test wasn’t the first component I’m getting ahead of myself. The first portion of the entry process was a written exam that covered many areas of general knowledge that included basic skills such as reading comprehension, vocabulary, and math. Next came mechanical aptitude, could you figure out how stuff worked.
These were all timed tests completing on time and getting the highest number of correct answers allowed you to advance to the next round of testing, the physical agility portion. The year I was hired was the very first time a woman (Hey Annie!) managed to reach this level and continue on to the next component of the hiring method.
The third event for many is the most difficult; it is the face to face oral interview. I have written about this in detail before. The whole thing is set up as a means to measure intelligence, dynamic thinking, decision making and many other things, and to do it under intense pressure after all a job as a firefighter hangs in the balance.
This is such a critical phase of testing that many books, websites, videos, and in person enactments have been created to prepare the potential employee for the rigors of the oral interview. One question that is most assuredly asked of every candidate is this one. “How far do you want to go in your firefighting career?”
I am almost as sure that nearly every single person that is offered that question responds with the pretty much the same rejoinder “Someday I’d like to be the chief.” No shit! Really you want to be “the” chief, the big, you want to be large and in charge?
If you answered that way I pray that in fact that didn’t happen to you. I said it because I felt it was expected, I mean who goes in there and says “I’ll be happy to just stay a firefighter.” No one that’s who. The officers sitting on the other side of the table want to know you have drive that you will always be striving for more, for perfection maybe.
Me, I had some hopes of promoting, maybe to lieutenant or captain, that would have been good. My personal problems prevented that and I watched over the years many of my peers become my superior. I watched many achieve the rank of chief, district chief or battalion chief, deputy chief and then one actually became The Chief.
All of these men and one woman who made chief (bless her she has passed) that I watched move up the proverbial ladder that I had worked with over the years morphed once in the gold. I knew all of them as firefighters as the boots on the ground as the hose draggers they were and in some cases weren’t. I had a feel for all of them just as they knew me.
My destiny wasn’t to be a member of the gold badge club and that really was a good thing, my career would have ended way before it did if I had stepped any further in to the lime lights.
The guy I knew that made it to the pinnacle of my old department announced yesterday suddenly that he was going to retire. Good luck to him, he put in more than 30 years himself. He went from fireman to paramedic, to lieutenant, to captain, to district chief, to deputy chief and then finally The Chief. Quite a feat if you think about the odds in the modern fire service for rising through the ranks to be top dog.
My experiences under 6 chiefs were wide and varied, some came from within and some from the outside. The outside chiefs came in blind and suffered tremendously from that. They weren’t one of “us”, yeah maybe they were firefighters, but they were firefighters somewhere else. Man did they have a challenge in front of them. To this day I still count one as a friend and admire him greatly. He gave it a great go and made profound changes in the way the Colorado Springs fire department operates today.
He was followed by two internal promotions; I only worked for one of those as I retired before the latest took command, and take command he did. Every firefighter has their own private little bitches about the job and everyone fantasizes about how it would be if one day I were king.
I think of an old Woody Allen movie Bananas, in the movie Woody Allen becomes the leader of a small country and as the Ruler he announces his new rules for his citizens.
His character’s name is Esposito. “From this day on, the official language of San Marcos will be Swedish. Silence! In addition to that, all citizens will be required to change their underwear every half-hour. Underwear will be worn on the outside so we can check. Furthermore, all children under 16 years old are now… 16 years old!”
The one thing that all the Chiefs had in common was a fascination with what our uniforms looked like, I have no idea why but changing the uniform or uniform policy was addressed early in every regime, Lord knows why.
What I do know is this, the fire department in my community is considered in official studies by the city, to be the best buy the citizens make with their tax dollars. They love us and they don’t care what we wear, what our shoes look like, or that we have a nap in the afternoon, they don’t care if buy groceries on duty, they don’t care if we work out and the list goes on and on. They care about this, when they need us we are there, that we help and save lives, and put out fires and give their kids badge stickers and are trustworthy and so on.
The people that care about all the petty shit are Woody Allen in my book. But I’m retired and none of their decisions actually effect me, but they do have an impact on morale and the new chief has nowhere to go but up form here.