Job Title: Fire Department Captain
Type of Company: I work for a fire department in a city of 50,000. We are a "full service" department providing paramedic level care, fire suppression & prevention and public education.
Education: AS, Fire & Occupational Health and Safety, University of New Haven BS, Fire Administration, University of New Haven
Previous Experience: I started my firefighting career as a volunteer firefighter and later, after taking many tests, was hired as a full-time career firefighter 20 years ago.
Job Tasks: As a captain, my primary job is that of shift commander. The shift commander oversees the activities of the entire shift, taking care of paperwork like the filing of overtime and setting up the training for the day. My other duties are to coordinate and conduct training under the direction of the Deputy Chief. At fires or other emergencies, my primary focus is the safety of my shift members at all times. In the absence of a chief officer, all decision-making lies with me. I must be well trained in strategy and tactics, hazardous material mitigation, emergency medical procedures, and incident command.
Another facet of my job is public education. I am frequently called upon to conduct station tours for school children or to give a class in the use of fire extinguishers to employees of a company. Interacting with the public, in general, is another major portion of my job. There are many times when I do not see people on their best day. Empathy is a big part of the job. Sometimes just showing people that you care and offering options to ease their burden can mean a lot. In my job, one has the ability to make a positive difference in someone's life at any time, on any day. That is what makes this profession the greatest in the world.
Best and Worst Parts of the Job: The best part of my job is helping those who cannot help themselves. There is much to be said for being there when others need you. The worst part of my job is telling a friend or family member that we could not save their loved one due to accident, injury, or illness. Another distressing part of my job is witnessing some very gruesome sights at some emergency scenes. Nothing can prepare you for what you'll encounter.
Job Tips: Start out by joining a volunteer fire department. From there, start taking classes and become a certified firefighter. Become an Emergency Medical Technician or EMT and seriously consider going to paramedic school. Obtaining those certifications will make you highly marketable. If you are interested in becoming a career firefighter, stop in any firehouse and talk to the crew. You can get great advice from those who have already been there.
Additional Thoughts: An all too common misconception of firefighters is that we sit around all day and play cards. Nothing could be further from the truth. Unfortunately the profession has suffered from an identity crisis. This is because, unlike the police officer or city worker who is always seen on the street, firefighters are rarely seen unless they are responding to or returning from an emergency. But it is not how much we are seen, it is the service that we perform that is most important. I doubt that you will find a more challenging job (both mentally and physically) and a more rewarding career than being a firefighter.
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