Why do I want to be a firefighter?  After 10 years living in California and holding jobs where for the most part I was sitting behind a desk and feeling like I was making no truly meaningful or significant contribution to the world, I gave it up.   I want a dynamic, people-oriented job.  I don’t want conventionality or routine.  I want the brotherhood and camaraderie that develops within the fire house and I want the relationship with my community where I am seen as a public servant and as member of our society who can be counted upon and trusted in any occasion.
In my fire 104 (Building Construction Related to the Fire Service) with Captain Don Torres, we were asked to answer 10 questions.  I’m going to complete this post, but putting the questions and answers here.

1.    Why do you want to be a firefighter?
My grandmother never got stuck in a tree, and my cat was never in a car crash requiring rescue with the jaws of life. The reasons I want to be a firefighter are such: After 10 years of dissatisfaction, and feelings of being unfulfilled in the various corporate, computer slave jobs I’ve held, I finally broke myself free from the idea that a degree in business doesn’t mean I have to work in a traditional “business”. I left my career in corporate recruiting in pursuit of an occupation that I felt would leave me feeling great about myself and what I was doing for others at the end of every day. I wanted a career where I would interact more frequently with the public, and provide services that don’t leave me feeling like a paper-pusher merely doing his job. For me, this is Firefighting.

2.    What do you consider your strongest attribute? What do you consider to be your weakest?
I believe my moral character is my strongest attribute. I take pride in being somebody who is dependable, reliable, and does what they say they’re going to do. I am honest and forthright, and I take responsibility for my actions. I know when I’m wrong and I admit it. I believe that’s something easier said than done.
A weakness I have struggled with for many years is organization. I tend to be the “messy room” kind of guy. It’s not something I’m proud of or enjoy and I’ve been working hard and training myself to put anything I use (or wear) away as soon as I’m finished with it. In the past this has been the source of many a frustration. I’ve lost things, been late to appointments, etc… In the past two years I’ve made tremendous progress in overcoming this weakness, and I look forward to conquering it completely.

3.    What is the advantage of working in teams? Why is teamwork so important in the fire service?
There are some obvious and not-so-obvious advantages to working in teams. First, there’s the old adage that “two heads are better than one”, and I believe that to be true. Make it three, or four heads and you’re doing that much better. Problem solving as a team usually happens faster and more effectively when people are working together. In firefighting this benefit is paramount as time is of the essence. A well developed team tends to think and act as one and the result can be stunning. Each member knows their responsibilities and watches out for their teammates as well.
In firefighting there are obviously hard times too. It’s in these times when some of the not-so-obvious advantages become apparent. People who are members of a team, or organized group of close-knit people will recover from traumatic or emotionally difficult situations faster than will somebody who has no or little support.

4.    Give an example of a time in which you were faced with an emergency situation. Explain the circumstances and your actions.

About 9 years ago I was a waiter at an Elephant Bar restaurant in Concord, and I remember during a lunch shift a group of older couples were at one of my tables. At one point as I was passing the table, I noticed everybody there was staring with concern at one of the women seated at the table. She appeared to be choking so I asked if that was what was happening. They said she was and asked if I could help. I remember being shocked that nobody had done anything yet. They just stared at her concerned. I hadn’t been formally trained any kind of emergency care, but I’d seen the Heimlich maneuver done before and had practiced the motion with my roommate. I asked the lady to stand up, got behind her, and performed one thrust. That was all it took. The food flew out and everything went right back to normal.
When it comes to emergency situations, I always remember what my father taught me as a child when we’d go to the beach. In reference to the undertow, he told me not to panic. That if in an emergency I simply stayed calm, I would always be alright.

5.    What are some important traits a firefighter must possess? What is the most important trait a firefighter must possess? Why?

There are many important traits a firefighter must possess, some of which include courage, kindness, honesty, integrity, pride and a strong work ethic. One trait that I believe is of paramount importance is dedication. If you are dedicated to what you do, you’ll never stop learning, improving, and caring. Dedication goes hand in hand with loyalty, pride and a person’s values. If you’re not dedicated to what you’re doing, quit while you’re ahead. I see firefighting as a career requiring dedication to all it’s aspects.

6.     How will you deal with the stresses and strains of being a firefighter?
I have always considered myself to be a strong and level-headed individual. I also have a very strong support system of family and friends. In addition to that, I’m not going into firefighting blind. I understand the dangers involved both to me, and my fellow firefighters, and I understand these dangers are both physical and emotional. There is no perfect way to deal with the stresses I’m likely to encounters, but I won’t be alone and I’ll take them one at a time without internalizing the pain or struggle.

7.    What are the public’s expectations of firefighters in the community aside from dealing with emergency situations?
Firefighters have a variety of roles in their community. As role models for so many kids, firefighters are expected to be warm and friendly, yet also strong and decisive. Though at times they have to move fast and give commanding orders, they’re also expected to be understanding to the powerful emotional struggles the people they’re helping will likely be going through.
Firefighters are also expected to be educators for their community. This is something that I particularly look forward to having the chance to do. Whether it be for an elementary school or a retirement community, I am excited at the prospect of community education.

8.    As a firefighter it is important that you establish and maintain effective working relationships. Describe how you would handle diverse personalities or differences in opinion with other members of your team.
Maybe I’ve been lucky, but personality differences have never been a problem for me. I usually get along quite well with my coworkers, classmates and those around me, but in the cases where there are personality clashes or differences of opinion, I put those disparities aside and focus on the things we can agree on, even if that is only the job we’re both doing. Usually there is a focus bigger than our individual opinions. I would focus on this, but I wouldn’t ignore our personal disagreements. I would acknowledge them and essentially “agree to disagree”. I would respect this other person’s feelings and beliefs and ask that he/she respect mine. I’ve usually found in these rare cases, that with time, we’ll find we have more in common than we initially thought anyway.

9.    What are your hobbies? How do you plan to spend your time off?
A few of my passions which I would (and do) spend much of my time on, are fitness, food, and writing. I’ve always been into working out and fitness and one of the most rewarding aspects of that hobby is the healthy appetite it creates. This works out well as food is another passion of mine. I enjoy cooking (especially for friends or family), and I enjoy eating what I cook even more.
I’m also a member of a Toastmasters club which I originally joined as a creative outlet, but found it to be an extraordinary way to improve my public speaking ability, while making some great new friends and of course, it has fed the creative part of me. I haven’t written much, but Toastmasters has given me a reason (and audience) for which to write short stories, both true and fictional.  (And now for this blog!)
I also enjoy sports, taking trips, dinners with friends, movies, and family.

10.    What would you do if you had a conflict with another firefighter?
I’d like to think that if I had a conflict with another firefighter, we’d be able to talk it out on our own and come to a mutual solution. If this was an impossibility, I’d take it to the attention of my immediate superior and ask for his or her assistance. That is of course, if I didn’t think I’d have a chance at winning in an arm-wrestle.