The purpose of this chapter is to give you an overview of sources of information that will have the up-to-date details on the subjects of employment opportunities, training and education, and changes in the field. One cannot have the time or money to explore all of these resources, but access to some of them is as simple as going to the local fire station and asking to see a recent copy of a publication.
In every case possible, we offer a brief description of the organization, what its basic purpose is, a mailing address, and the names of its publications. Many of these organizations change from time to time, most of the national organizations have been in existence for many decades and should be reasonably easy to contact.
What this means to you in your research is that while local organizations may be the closest to you, they may be the most difficult to locate unless you have the assistance of someone from the local fire department. The national organizations may be the easiest to locate, but the most expensive to use. How far you will go to utilize these resources depends on your own resources and how serious you are in the pursuit of a job.
One of the best resources available is the closest fire station. Generally, all you have to do to start getting information about the local fire department is ask. Firefighters tend to be very proud of their occupation. They are usually very hospitable to people who express an interest. That doesn't mean that they will sit down and let you monopolize their time. To get the most out of the local resources and not wear out your welcome, the following suggestions are good guidelines.
Obtain the local fire department's business telephone number. Make sure that the number is for business and not for emergencies. After obtaining the number, call up and ask for the Office of the Fire Chief. It is not necessary that you talk to the chief in person. The reason you call that office is to ask the secretary for information on the department's hiring practices. You should be courteous and brief in your request. They will probably ask for your address, so be prepared to give them a complete mailing address.
Don't be surprised if the secretary refers you to another officer or even to another department, such as personnel. That's why you are better off making the call by phone instead of person. The larger the department, the more likely you will be sent to someone else to get the details. The reason you start with the chiefs office is that it cuts down on false leads to the correct person.
After you get the basic employment hiring package, review it thoroughly. All of the details of the testing procedures should be reviewed and the necessary qualifications examined. In some cases, the only thing that the local department will provide is a job description or flyer. In other cases, you will receive a large amount of information. In either case, read it from cover to cover.
After you have accomplished that chore, locate the closest fire station to where you live. Or, if your town or city has only a few stations, find out where the fire headquarters is located. Call the department and ask to speak to one of the following people: the station captain, the on-duty company commander, or the department training officer. Any of these three people can be helpful to you. Once you have made contact with one of them, ask for an appointment at a specific date and time. The best time for most fire officers is between 4:00 and 5:00 on the weekdays. In some cases, weekends are better if the officer is on a shift schedule.
Keep the appointment. Punctuality and discipline are very important in the fire fighter's world. If you make an appointment and fail to keep it, forget about getting another one. If you must cancel the date, call well in advance and let the person know what your problem is. Conversely, if you arrive at the scheduled time and they are not there, sit down and wait. They may be on an emergency response.
Ask the person to give you a brief description of the department's hiring practices, including a brief overview of the testing process. He or she will not give you any specific information about the questions on the test, but will discuss general practices and procedures. After you have discussed hiring practices, collect as much information as you can about the department's vital statistics-the number of personnel, fire companies, hiring rates over the last few years, potential for growth, etc.
Take good notes and have your questions prepared in advance. Fire officers are often very busy people, so it is a good idea to conclude the interview in a maximum of one to one and a half hours. That is about all that the officer can afford to give you.
If you have done your homework well and have prepared yourself to ask the right questions, you will be able to leave the station with a good idea of what to expect. Depending on the size of the department you might want to take an additional step. A visit to one of the fire stations to talk to the actual tail board firefighters can be a very good experience. Once again it is a good idea to call in advance and have a predetermined time. Again, it is a good idea to conduct the session carefully and have a cut-off time.
Through this technique, you establish a relationship with a member of the fire service. This can often be a tremendous advantage because of the counseling that a candidate can get from an in-service person. This is sometimes referred to as mentoring; it is a form of counseling and personal guidance. They won't do anything illegal or unethical for you, but they will help you get prepared for the testing process.
Sometimes a person cannot do these things locally. If you live in a rural area where jobs are scarce you may have to do the same thing by a combination of telephone and mail. My office receives several inquiries a week from candidates researching for jobs.
The same point should be made about telephone and mail inquiries regarding your starting point. Start your inquiry at the fire chiefs level. Write him a short, complete note requesting hiring information. Make sure that the note is properly prepared regarding spelling, punctuation, and grammar. Be sure to include a stamped, self-addressed envelope for the return of the data.
The number and type of potential fire service positions varies dramatically from one state to another. The greatest number of potential jobs at the state level seems to be in the western and southeastern parts of the country because of the ground covers. However, almost every state has some fire protection employment opportunities.
There are several ways to check out the potential for these jobs. The first way is an extension of the methods suggested for the local level. This method employs the use of the fire service itself. In almost all of the states there is a State Fire Chiefs' Association. The chiefs' organization is usually a private organization consisting of fire chiefs who gather together to work on fire service related problems. There is almost always a State Fire Marshal or State Fire Training program. These are usually a function of the state government vested with the job of enforcing fire codes or providing training to the fire departments. In either case, they are well qualified to evaluate employment opportunities.
Your local fire department will usually have the address of the State Fire Chiefs' Association. Ask them for the mailing address of the business office or the current secretary of the association. Then draft a letter to that person asking for assistance in doing two things. The first is to get a copy of the mailing address of association members. This will help you in locating other possible municipalities that are hiring. The second is to ask the person for information on the addresses of organizations that provide fire protection services.
Write a similar letter to the Office of the State Fire Marshal of the Director of State Fire Training, asking for information on how to locate the state agencies that provide fire protection jobs. Also ask for the name and address of the state employment office. Even if the state agencies do not have entry level positions themselves, they should know about the other agencies. You will have to write or telephone the specific agencies in order to get more detailed and current information.
While the employment outlook for all fire protection careers is generally favorable for the future, the number of positions in the federal government engaged in fire protection is very favorable. One reason for this is that many of the federal fire positions are seasonal.
There are two ways of getting information about federal jobs. The first is to contact the agencies directly. The second is to stay in touch with the state employment office, as information on federal job opportunities are posted with them. According to the 1980-81 Occupational Outlook Handbook, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management maintains about seventy Federal Job Information Centers around the country. Most of these are located in the larger cities.
Contacting a Federal Job Information Center can be a very effective way of looking into opportunities. These centers not only post announcements, but may also provide information on general qualifications, testing information, and hiring criteria for the entire federal system. While you may not be able to get to the Job Center in person, you may contact them by telephone or by mail.
Contacting the agencies that provide fire protection directly is the most effective way to assess job opportunities, but there are limitations.
Contact as many of these agencies as possible to get the criteria for employment, and then set your focus on one or two of the agencies in order to get hired.
Because the fire service is so diversified, it requires many organizations and resources to continue to function. Some of these organizations can be very helpful to the aspiring firefighter. The following is a brief listing of the major fire service organizations you might contact to get more information. None are being recommended as sources of employment; they are listed as sources of information on preparing for employment, or for information on the career potentials.
- National Fire Protection Association, Battery march Park Quincy, Massachusetts. The NFPA, as it is commonly called, is the largest private organization involved in fire protection. This group publishes most of the standards used by the fire service as well as many publications that are helpful to the specialty fields in fire protection. One of the most important standards that they publish relating to career opportunities is the Medical Standards for Entry Level Firefighters, NFPA 1001. They also publish a variety of magazines and newsletters that contain useful information. Examples of these are Fire Service Today, Fire Journal, and Fire Technology. In the first two publications mentioned, there are frequent job announcements in the advertising sections.
The NFPA is divided into sections. Each section specializes in one area of fire protection. When a person joins the NFPA, he or she is invited to join one of these sections to receive different types of information. Four sections of interest to a person researching a career are Fire Service, Fire Marshals, Fire Educators, and Society of Fire Protection Engineers.
- International Fire Service Training Association, Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, Oklahoma 74078. This organization, usually referred to as IFSTA, is primarily designed to produce training materials for the fire service. While the bulk of the material is aimed at the in-service person, IFSTA does produce several good publications that can aid a person looking for employment. Several of their publications are aimed at reviewing basic skills a candidate might need to brush up on. Examples of these publications are Mathematics for the Fire Service, Chemistry for the Fire Service and the textbooks that are used by most of the recruit academies.
IFSTA also publishes a newsletter called "Speaking of Fire" that contains useful information on fire service careers.
- International Association of Fire Fighters, 1750 New York Ave, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20006. The IAFF is the largest firefighters' organization in the country. It is a labor organization which represents the needs of its membership.
It can often direct a candidate toward career opportunities. Additionally, the IAFF is active in the development of apprenticeship and pre-employment programs. The IAFF does not produce very many publications of general interest, but it is usually very cooperative in helping find information for anyone who asks.
- International Association of Fire Chiefs, 1329 18th Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20036. The IAFC is the organization that represents the fire chiefs of the country on matters relating to legislation, training, and education. Obviously, being a fire chiefs' organization, it is not designed to function for the entry level person. Yet in many ways it is among the most important of the groups, for the fire chiefs are the ones who prepare and defend the budgets of the fire departments. The IAFC will send out information on career opportunities in the fire service. Also, the IAFC has been instrumental in sponsoring such things as the Fire Exploring program and many of the educational opportunities that assist pre-employment personnel. The primary publication of the organization is aimed almost exclusively at the fire chief and has limited value to pre-employment individuals.
- International City Managers Association, 1120 G Street, N. W., Washington, D.C. 20005. The majority of firefighters in this country work for cities and counties. The organization with the best overview of employment in the public sector is the ICMA. This organization publishes a document each year called the Municipal Year Book. It is based on research done to determine salaries and benefits for a wide range of reasons. Among the facts collected from local jurisdictions are elements that could be helpful in job searching. For example, the yearbook gives information on the size and type of fire departments, the number of employees, the starting salaries and benefits, and the total department budgets.
You need not buy the yearbook just to read this information. Most good public or college libraries should have it. This resource is best read for its facts rather than purchased.
- American Emergency Services, P.O. Box 215, Wheaton, Illinois 60189. American Emergency Services is a private provider of fire protection and emergency medical services. It is a source of information regarding private sector involvement in a wide variety of activities. They are a possible link to the Private Sector Fire Association, which currently exists but does not have an address in publication.
- Associated Public Safety Communications, P.O. Box 669, New Smyrna Beach, Florida 32069. For those who want to consider the field of fire service communications, APCO is an excellent resource. It distributes information relating to the practices and procedures used in fire and police dispatch centers. While APCO itself does not hire personnel, it could be helpful in locating entry level positions through canvassing member organizations.
PUBLICATIONS AND LITERATURE
Another very good way of being current on the field of fire protection is to subscribe to one of the professional publications that are distributed to the fire service. These magazines contain a variety of articles that range from the very technical to the basic. Many fire science students subscribe to one or more of them long before they are employed. It helps to build a vocabulary, gain insight into the workings of the profession, and discover trends in employment opportunities. While very few departments advertise entry level jobs in these magazines, many advertise promotions and specialty jobs. Usually a department that is promoting people is hiring people.
The more research that you do about the fire service, the greater your chances of employment become. One must have the minimum qualifications just to compete. Those who succeed are almost always the ones who take that little bit of extra time to learn something more. There are no simple ways of defining or measuring the impact of this, but as a fire officer I have sat on hundreds of oral boards, I have hired over 350 firefighters in my career, and I detect an undeniable advantage to the candidate who has prepared herself or himself through researching the job.
The sources identified in this chapter are like windows into a house. One cannot enter the house through the windows. Yet by looking into those windows you can gain insight that will help you walk through the door. Many of the sources that we have identified here will lead you to other resources. Use them to your advantage.