By Dr. Mark Rivero
In today’s world of constant and unexpected change, where do the organization’s expectations clash with the younger generation’s expectations when it comes to selecting the best and most qualified public safety trainee or recruit? In a conversation with a recent high school graduate, the question was asked about their future and how they were prepared for the next stage of their life.
The young graduate was offered a scholarship to a four-year institution as an athlete. When the scholarship was declined, I asked what direction he was interested in for employment or career. The famous answer that we have all heard was that my friend said he could get me on the local fire department. This seems to be the classic example of an interested but misguided potential employee. But where is the misunderstanding?
On the department side, we really need to be sure that the expectations of the hiring and interview process are clearly defined and understood and that the applicant is really prepared for the job. What is the applicant having life experiences that can translate to being the best of the best when applying for these jobs? Although college may not be for everyone, athletics can help students become more disciplined and focused while completing a degree.
In terms of life and longevity, 18 to 24 years of age really can make a difference in the overall preparation for a successful career in firefighting and public safety. The one opportunity of being able to capitalize on a degree at such a young age should be understood by all generations as one will never know when a career-altering event may change the dream job. Accidents happen all the time, and very few firefighters and public safety personnel retire without any skeletal problems.
In some organizations that deal with public safety, firefighting, emergency medical, and law enforcement, there are explorer programs that provide good exposure and training so that the potential applicant can acquire skills that are directly related to the job. The programs are very beneficial to those that have been advised and guided in that pathway to a career that is obviously the one they have a very profound idea about, and they want that job.
On the other hand, what happens when a person is given the false hope of a promising career and doesn’t really have any idea of the job itself? Firefighting is more than lifting weights, washing vehicles, and shopping at the local store. But to some, this is the simple description they tell friends or relatives, and then it’s believed, and the great disappointment sets in. The applicant doesn’t score well on the written test, fails the physical ability test, does speak well at the interview, and states there is no real preparation other than his friend said it’s a cakewalk of a job.
Looking at this, an organization can and usually does define job expectations. It will list a portion of job duties typically experienced in a firefighter’s career. Few high school programs teach fire and emergency medical technician classes recognized for high school and college credit. Students following this type of preparation are more likely to be not only good and qualified applicants but also have experiences directly related to the job. We all know that there are the opportunities in which an applicant can be hired simply from the friend of a friend situation, but how well qualified are they, and also how many times have we seen those types of employees either move out of the public safety arena of experience some behavior that ends in termination. In closing, what needs to be addressed is advisement at the high school and college levels so that students at either level get the right direction and advisement that allows for life experiences that will assist them in becoming a professional in their chosen career fields.
Mark Rivero worked for the City of Las Vegas, Nevada, Fire and Rescue until 2011, as firefighter, training officer and ultimately professional development officer, creating degree pathways for fire service personnel. He currently serves as a program advisor/site coordinator for Southern Illinois University and as chairperson for the doctoral degree path committee for professional development at the National Fire Academy. Rivero also works with the American Council on Education, reviewing fire service courses at various institutions across the United States. He received his doctorate from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas in 2004.