I have been looking to promote into an officers position within my department but like many combination departments, no one is leaving anytime soon. With the way things are, I want to get away from my day job and do what I love, full time. How can I make my volunteer experience seem more attractive to a paid department? When I talk to my buddies on paid departments, I see that I have way more experience than they do in regards to fighting fires but they always joke about me being a "jolly volly". I want to be taken seriously and could use some advice.
Aug 30, 2012 - 5:58PM
Re: Career Progression
Jake, I started out as a "jolly volly" before getting hired by a career department. I really wish more folks would become volunteers before getting hired by a career department to see if they are a good fit and if they can handle the job. A fire does not know if you are a career firefighter or a volunteer firefighter, so the experience is the same.
The first thing to do is to treat the volunteer position as a professional position(not saying you're not, just saying). If you walk around in cut off shorts wearing your ball cap backwards and wearing a T-Shirt that says "get "em hot and leave them wet" then your headed down the wrong road. If you only show up for the "good" fires and avoid all the EMS calls, not a good move. Regardless of your rank within the volunteer organization, pitch in on everything.
Now if I am reading your post correctly, you are a volunteer in a combination department. The biggest mistake folks make in this environment is an "us versus them" attitude. I was a volunteer in a combination department and a career firefighter in a combination department (different department). It can be difficult because sometimes the requirements for the volunteers are not as much as for the career folks, this is the big wedge. You can overcome this by showing your worth to both sides of the organization. There will be folks on both sides bumping their gums but what they are failing to recognize is it is not about them or you. It is about service to the citizens. If someone has a house fire they are not going to check your credentials before letting you put the fire out.
Your post also seems to indicate you are looking at a career position within your combination department. You may have to apply elsewhere. As a matter of fact, that is the best option for several reasons. Becoming a career officer where you volunteered may present some management problems. In many cases those problems are those you used to volunteer with. Going to a different department may mean the officer position you want may take a few more years. Going to a different department may also offer other opportunities and experiences.
Finally, make sure you have the necessary educational requirements to apply for any position. I have seen guys that have a lot of "paper" under their belt, with little experience, and those with lots of experience with little formal education. The similarity is that both were poor in their positions. Formal education provides the opportunity to learn based on a standard, not some BS an old captain told you. Firefighting by folklore is not a good way to go. But a lot of education does not equal experience. Experience shows us the real world application of the formal education, and with a good mentor you can learn how to tweak the formal education to fit the experience. You need a good mix of both.
Keep plugging along and do the right thing (not popular, right). This is a tough business to get into but is the best job in the world.
Sep 4, 2012 - 7:25AM
Re: Career Progression
Thanks for the advice,as far as leaving my department, I know that I will have to. There are no positions open and we are in one of those no where to go until someone dies type of department. I don't want anyone to die but I also feel like I have more to offer than just riding backwards for the rest of my life. Education wise, I have a bachelors degree in Occupational Safety and Health which should be helpful. I have FF I and should get to take my FF II soon. I have been to most of the training offered by my department and have what I would consider an average amount of certifications for the area. It is hard to get into officer level courses until you are one. Any suggestions on where I can get the certifications?
Thanks again for the help, love the website!
Sep 22, 2012 - 8:27AM
Re: Career Progression
When it comes to obtaining certifications, it is important to understand your particular state's requirements (unless you are wanting to move to a different state). Generally speaking, going through a state sponsored fire academy is the best option however, some colleges offer IFSAC or Proboard accepted programs. I have personally never used this option but if you are hitting a brick wall when it comes to going to the academy, it might be for you! No matter what, education as an officer is important! I hate that they reserve the officer classes for officers. There is a lot of preparation that needs to be accomplished to make someone semi-prepared to be an officer. These classes are the starting point, not a finish line. Good luck and thank you for the interaction!