Monday, October 11, 2010

The Longest Day

It is a day that some firefighters dread, others look forward to and most just accept for what it is. Every firefighter in the Kinda Big Fire Protection District has gone through it, many others who don't work here have gone through part of it. Few ever want to go through it again.

The day will start early, the sharp ones will get to work an hour before shift change. They will go through the rig, making sure everything is set up perfectly. The ice chest will be stocked, as will the snack bag. The snacks will come in handy, not only for the candidate but for the rest of the crew as well. As soon as the entire crew arrives, the unit will head up the hill to the training center where the test will be held.

The test starts with a briefing, including a safety message. The expectations and performance standards will be laid out for the candidate and the captain. Once the briefing is complete, it is game-on and a single goal becomes the focus of the candidates life.

For the next four or five hours, the candidate will be tested to determine his suitability to be a firefighter for the K.B.F.P.D. They key is to hustle, but pace oneself so that enough energy is left toward the end to complete the test. It is a test of technical knowledge, manipulative skills, strength, stamina and perseverance. Performance under pressure, the ability to work as a team and the effects of exhaustion are evaluated during all phases of the test.

Most make it, but a percentage do not.. The result of failure is an almost instant transition to unemployment. The  pressure on the candidate is enormous, that upon the Captain is nearly as much. Pressure is what this test is about, it starts when the candidate walks through the door on his first day and ends a year later when he successfully completes his years test.

Today, five minutes after shift change,I heard Engine 209 go out of service and head to the tower for a probation test. I recognized the captain's voice on the radio, he used to drive for me when he was a new engineer. I looked on the roster to see the name of his probationary firefighter. Although I recognized the name, I know I have never met him.

I haven't heard if the candidate passed or not, though had he not been successful, news would have traveled fast. The master scheduling computer shows him still on duty, these are both  good signs.

I always feel old when we terminate people whom I have never met. The older I get and the bigger we get, the more often this occurs. A candidate was terminated a few weeks ago, I hadn't even heard his name. He was performing so poorly, he was terminated before taking his test. This is a practice that happens occasionally, the performance documentation has to be perfect for it to occur.

I hate it when we terminate people, though I know that, occasionally, it needs to be done. We have a group of candidates that will be going through testing over the next few weeks, I wish them all well.

A new group of firefighters will be coming on board after the first of the year. I hope that they will be committed to their completion of the probationary process so we don't have to go through the trauma of cutting them loose. It's a task no one enjoys.

Thanks for reading,


  1. Schmoe, I enjoy reading your blog. We go through a similar process for our probationers. A nice tradition our officers have is that when they clear the training academy they announce over the air "Engine *** is clear of the Fire Training Academy with Firefighter (Last Name) aboard." Obviously, when we don't hear that message, we all know the dirty truth.

  2. Anon - What a great idea. Good for team building too!

    Thanks for the comment.

  3. Capt Schmoe:

    Nice parallel with the previous post--you've got people finishing their careers and those just starting out. Good stuff!

    The Observer

  4. Thanks observer, it's kind of "turn, turn. turn" thing isn't it?

  5. Man, even in the fire service the West Coast is like another planet compared to the East.

    Far as I've seen, probation is for the most part a formality. Don't screw up off-duty, don't piss anybody off on-duty, slog your way through your 60+ hours a week on the ambulance, and the year will be over before you know it.

  6. We have departments with cake-walk probation periods out here too, KBFPD just isn't one of them.

    Thanks for the comment.

  7. and yet class after class there's always someone who doesn't seem to value his/her job.

  8. Burned - out - Yeah, figure that one out. They go through all of the BS to get on the job, then don't have the motivation to try and keep it.

    For us, those types are rare. Usually it's a matter of trying to make chicken soup out of chicken manure - they just don't have the raw materials.

    Thanks for the comment.