Firefighting is one of those jobs that brings many people much excitement and nostalgia of their childhood. Firefighter or not, mostly everyone has a good memory of interacting with a firefighter. Children look up to firefighters and a lot of them have the dream of one day becoming one. Well, for me it’s that way. The big red trucks, loud sirens, the family atmosphere at the firehouse, helping and saving people. There’s always that something that moves someone to become one.
Firefighting is not an easy job and can definitely be physically and mentally draining, but also dangerous. Like any of the first responder professions, the answer the call to help people at their worst no matter what. According to THE GAME: A Rookie Firefighter’s Manual for Success by Renick Sampson. It sheds light on the privilege of service, “Firefighting in the United States has a deep history of tradition and public respect.
This foundation of pride and trust in the fire service was earned through the blood, sweat, and tears of everyone who has worn the badge before you.
It’s now your turn to uphold the same ideology that got us to where we are today.” The path to becoming a firefighter in Massachusetts can often be a long wait. According to Firefighter Stephen Crowley of the Cambridge Fire Department in a one on one interview, it can take up to 3 years depending on the individual’s situation. When applying to be a firefighter, there aren’t many requirements.
The first step for someone entertaining a career firefighting would be to take the civil service exam for the state of Massachusetts. This Exam, according to Crowley isn’t so much about firefighting knowledge as it is an evaluation of the takers phycological fitness to work in a government position. after this test is taken the taker will then be given a date to go complete the firefighter Physical Ability Test.
The Mass.gov website lays out all the information for the Physical Ability Test. The test consists of 7 parts to test different abilities and body movement. The first being the Stair Climb, which simulates the firefighter climbing the stairs of a building or house in full gear to rescue persons or pets in a timely manner. By using a “stair stepper” machine applicants will climb according to a pre-set speed. They are required to keep up with this pace for 200 seconds. Secondly there is the Ladder Event. Ladders are no stranger to a firefighter and knowing how to use one safely, quickly and with a respect for heights is key. As this part doesn’t require the applicant to climb the ladder, they will be moving an extension ladder from a rack from point A to point B raising it up to the top at point B. they then need to lower it down and carry the ladder back to point A and re-rack it. the completion time is 35.56 or less. Simulating the manipulation of a hose filled with water under pressure the third part is the Hose Advance.
Applicants are required “ to pull 50 feet of hose through a U-shaped course with several turns. There will be a ceiling on the U-shaped course to prevent you from standing upright. The time limit is 20.00 seconds.’ Forcible entry is another part that simulates breaking into a building as the name indicates. Applicants will swing a 12 lb. sledge hammer to move an object a pre-set distance. they have 13.91 seconds to hit it hard enough. The fifth part is Search. Applicants will crawl as quickly as they can through a pitch black 65-foot-long tunnel 4 feet high and 4 feet wide filled with obstacles and smaller areas. Search simulates searching a small smoke-filled area for a victim, and 39 seconds is the passing time. Rescue Through a Doorway simulates pulling someone injured or unconscious out of the building and through doorways. Applicants have to drag a dummy that weighs 125 lbs. about 30 feet. The course is filled with zigzags and obstructions like a low ceiling not allowing for standing upright. They have 36 seconds ro complete it. Saving the best for last, there is the Ceiling Hook (or Pike Pole) portion.
This two-part portion is trying to simulate the use of a pike pole to tear down ceilings and open walls to find hidden fires. The pike pole in this even is tipped with an industrial hammer and you need to thrust it up to the ceiling to a metal plate weighs 60 pounds. It has to be lifted 6 inches for the hit to count. The second part requires the applicant to pull down a pole suspended in the air with an 80-pound counter weight. It needs to be pulled down 6 inches with 5 pulls in a sequence, repeated 25 times. The next step in the path to getting hired, after the above is completed the applicant will then be placed on the Firefighter Eligible List for the state of Massachusetts, then apply to the fire departments of their choice. According to Crowley, there’s a lot of factors that affect the placement with other applicants on the list. The results of the Physical Ability Test and written exam are taken into account first.
Being a resident in the city or town for a year prior to applying will put applicants over the ones not from that city or town. Making it to the next bracket of selection the applicants are now placed based on qualifications, or military status. Applicants that have an EMT qualification or a Fire Science Associates Degree will be placed above those who don’t. Honorable military veterans and fire veterans are placed above everyone because of the 5 or 10 points that gets added to their score for their service already. The wait to get selected for interview after making it to this point depends on the spot of the applicant on the list, and the number of firefighters getting hired that year in the city or town. Once selected the by the department of their choices the applicants will be invited for the first interview of a series of usually 3. The movement past this point relies on how well the applicant preforms in those interviews. When the department hires an applicant that doesn’t mean that the wait is over. Crowley says it takes about 6 months for the paperwork and secondary medical exams and tests to be completed, along with landing a spot in the Massachusetts Fire Academy in Stow, Ma.
The Fire Academy then trains all the hired applicants to be firefighters ready to start. After everything is set and done, the first year for the firefighter is often his hardest. Crowley says; “It’s a lot to take in at first, even with the training. You can have all the training in the world, it’s the experience that’s everything in this profession.” This is crucial because, the words help to humble a motivated new firefighter that could make the mistake of thinking he knows everything. Sampson says the best things you can do are, introduce yourself to everyone, look sharp, keep the station clean, cook good food for the station and when there’s nothing left to do studying for new qualifications always looks good. If the city or town has a probation period, this is the time where the station sees if there a good fit for their family.
They can choose to keep them, move them to another station, or fire them due to not being able to conform to the standards set by the fire department. During the interview with Crowley, he expressed skills and traits that a firefighter needs to be able to continue in the field. He says they need to have initiative. Being able to do things correctly and without being told is something that will put them ahead of their peers. Functioning under immense stress is a must, because every decision they make could me life or death to them or the victims of the incidents they get called to. You have to work well with a team at all times under any situation.
The fire service needs to work as a team to ensure the safety and accountability of the firefighter. Good Communication with your team can save lives. Being a firefighter doesn’t stop after the first year, the career of a firefighter is usually 32 years if they want to take advantage of the pension benefit. While being a firefighter, they and their families are entitled to full health and dental benefits. The firefighter is also protected under the heart and lung bill which means if he or she dies of an illness caused by firefighting smoke or chemicals; the family will get a large sum of money from the state of Massachusetts. With the shifts being, for most departments 8, 24 hour shifts a month.
This gives firefights plenty of time if they aren’t taking extra shifts to do something on their off time. Firefighters also peruse educational degrees or secondary careers in Electric, Plumbing, Barbering or Mechanics to name a few. In all being a firefighter could be a very rewarding and full filling career and there is plenty of room for self and professional improvement. Whether it be moving up the ranks in the fire department or starting a business on the side. If someone can be 150 percent dedicated to the job and follow the rules and regulations while keeping their cool under pressure; they can be a firefighter.
Crowley, Stephen. Personal Interview. 9 Feb. 2019.
Sampson, Renick. THE GAME: A Rookie Firefighters Manual for Success. First Printing, 2017. Kindle Edition.
“What You Should Expect in Firefighter Physical Ability Test (PAT).” Mass.gov, www.mass.gov/service-details/what-you-should-expect-in-firefighter-physical-ability-test-pat.