Building a Solid Foundation
for Your Fire Service Career
By Anthony Kastros
The mission of a modern firefighter grows every day. On any given day, American firefighters may face active shooters, commercial and residential structure fires, domestic terrorism, emergency medical aids, miscellaneous odors, natural disasters, rescues in confined spaces (on cliffs, over ice and in moving water), vehicle accidents and violent crimes.
In order to save lives in the most challenging conditions, firefighters should have conventional intelligence, emotional intelligence, general stamina, mental toughness, physical fitness and must be able to put the team first.
For firefighters looking to commit to a long-term career, they must be capable of enduring devastating tragedy, extreme conditions, sleepless nights and work long hours. They must not only be able to perform at a high level in a combat environment while operating cumbersome and technical equipment, but do so while maintaining an empathic attitude to citizens and comradery to teammates.
The Triangle of Preparation
Firefighters who anticipate a long career must begin with a solid foundation, a plan to build upon itself as they navigate from an applicant to recruit, probationary firefighter, permanent member, engineer, captain and beyond. The Triangle of Preparation (TOP) is an excellent organizational tool to use upon beginning your career.
To begin, analyze yourself. This includes your dreams, experiences, failures, passions, opinions, nightmares, strengths, triumphs and weaknesses. It’s important to take the appropriate amount of time to do homework on yourself. You will have a much clearer understanding of who you are, where you want to go and how to get there. Because everyone is different, we will have a different TOP and (a different bottom) of the triangle.
On the left side of the triangle is the fire department that you are aspiring to join (or earn a promotion within). Just like individuals, fire departments have their unique personalities, core values, culture, priorities, style, mission and vision.
Education is critical to the modern firefighter. Analyzing your educational level against the myriad of classes, online courses, and programs is vital to your career.
Education is critical to the modern firefighter. Analyzing your educational level against the myriad of classes, online courses, and programs is vital to your career. You cannot bridge the gap if you do not know one exists. In addition to traditional education, aspiring firefighters must delve behind the scenes, visit stations and ask questions to current firefighters.
Lastly, the job you are seeking is represented on the third side of the TOP and requires an in-depth study of the job you are seeking. Is it entry-level firefighter, engineer, captain or chief officer? What does the job description say? What are the knowledge, skills and abilities (KSA’s) for the job?
This will be unique to every fire department. For example, a captain position is very different depending on where you go in the country. Los Angeles City Fire Department has Captain II positions that are a step above the Captain I level. Captain II is a Task Force Commander (and typically a truck captain) whereas Captain I is usually an engine captain.
To build a solid foundation, you must do your homework. When you do an in-depth analysis of yourself, the job you are seeking and the fire department itself, you can get a better understanding of yourself in that position, in that department. If you cannot visualize yourself there, no hiring or promotional panel will either.
Bio: Anthony Kasatros is a 29-year veteran of the fire service. He is author of the Fire Engineering/Pennwell book and video series "Mastering the Fire Service Assessment Center" and video series "Mastering Fireground Command - Calming the Chaos!" Chief Kastros was the Keynote Speaker for FDIC International 2013.
Columbia Southern University (CSU) is an online university based in Orange Beach, Ala., that strives to change and improve lives through higher education by enabling students to maximize their professional and personal potential. If you are interested in learning more about Fire Science Degree offerings, please go to: http://www.columbiasouthern.edu/fire-science