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  • Plan for promotion

    There was a point made in another thread so I will address it as its own topic. It dealt with promoting in the fire service.

    When I got hired 20-years ago, I was the youngest firefighter on the job for 5 years. At 21 years old, I made some immature mistakes and got labeled pretty quickly (now you may understand my motivation to help younger candidates and ultimately rookie firefighters). Some people will never forget, and others will come around after you have proven yourself. Lastly, many will retire.

    I spent 18 months as a firefighter followed by 8 ½ years as a firefighter paramedic. A firefighter must have 6 years on to take the Captain’s exam and 4 to take the Engineer’s exam. I did not take the first Captain’s exam that I was eligible for and it never occurred to me to do so.

    I was shocked when people approached me asking if I was going to take it. In my mind I was still reeling from being labeled as being an immature kid. Fortunately for me I had newer people came along, make mistakes and earn their time in the “news.” All the while I was keeping my head down and my mouth shut. I had finally, with the help of some good mentors, learned the culture of the fire service.

    Another reason I did not take the first Captain’s test was due to the fact that in my mind a Captain was older, had gray hair, a big moustache and smoked a cigarette. I did not see myself fitting this stereotype.

    I got assigned to a crew with a Captain I did not respect. After seeing his lead I felt I could do a better job. This, coupled with the fact that my peers began telling me that I should take the Captain’s exam, got me thinking.

    One day I responded to a medical aid. I remember vividly starting an IV in the back of the rig outside a con home and hearing Captain “Cosmo’s” nasally voice explaining his views on religion. It’s important to note his nickname was given because he is always out in the stars.

    Of course, we all know that discussing politics on duty is frowned upon. His ideas were so outlandish and out of the mainstream, I just had to stick my head out the side door of the rescue to see whom he was speaking to. Imagine my embarrassment when I saw a Jewish Rabbi in full regalia. I was mortified and disgusted. Since he was the Captain, I really had no recourse without making this into a big deal.

    I dropped the patient off at the hospital and returned to the station to get my wallet. I went to the bookstore and bought Fire Command by Alan Brunacini. I read the book and never looked back.

    I was 29 when I took the Captain’s test. Since my department was very old, a 30-year old paramedic was not expected to do well. I found a great mentor (Randy Scheerer Division Chief Newport Beach FD who has since passed away unexpectedly), and he took me under his wing. Without his tutelage and expertise, coupled with the support of my wife and encouragement of my friends, I never would have been successful in the promotional process.

    After I made Captain, I took a rig out of district. I got severely disciplined. This episode of taking a rig out of district verified to my detractors that I was still immature, while my friends stuck by me. In retrospect it was the best thing that ever happened to me. I learned that there was no way I could expect people to follow me if I did not follow the policies and procedures. It gave a strong sense of duty that I still use today to base all of my decisions upon. If I cannot justify my actions to the fire chief, I will not do something. I’m not a robot, but I do have a strong sense of duty.

    I worked as a Captain for 2 ½ years and was encouraged to take the BC exam. I worked in busy houses and got some fantastic experience. Again I was faced with the dilemma of being young. In my mind I did not have any business taking the test.

    At 5 years it was made very clear that I should take the exam. I still felt I wanted more experience. I looked at the people who promoted on the previous list and the ones would be taking the current exam and I believed I was as competent as anyone. These were some incredibly capable people but I felt I could compete. Most importantly, many of my peers believed I should take the exam.

    Similar to the Captain’s exam I set out on a game plan. I called my mentor, Randy Scheerer, and we got down to business. While I didn’t have much time in rank, I was confident in my abilities. With his tutoring we were able to cover all of the important aspects of learning the position.

    I promoted a two and a half years ago and I have never been happier or felt more satisfied in my position. It took me 5 shifts to get in the BC car and not look in the rear view mirror and expect to see someone chasing me telling me to get out before someone sees me. I still can’t believe I am lucky enough to be in my position.

    I have had some incredible incidents; some may even classify them as career fires. Little by little I learned and gained confidence. I realize I still have much more to learn.

    I have enjoyed every position along the way. I am grateful to all of my friends and mentors who have demonstrated confidence and supported me along the way.

    In each position I felt I promoted too young. I believed there were people out there with more experience who may have been better prepared for the position. This made me become a student of the position. After a period of time I became comfortable in the role.

    Did I see my career going this direction? No, I believed I might take the Captain’s exam in my mid 40’s like I had seen as a young firefighter. I was in the right place at the right time and had some incredible support from my family, mentors and friends.

    I would advise anyone who is thinking of promoting to sit down and write out a plan. Seek out a mentor and follow his or her advice. Make certain that education is a part of your plan.

    Good luck and stay safe!
    Last edited by BCLepore; 11-23-2006, 12:57 AM.
    Paul Lepore
    Battalion Chief
    www.aspiringfirefighters.com

  • #2
    Awesome story, Paul! Thanks for posting it.

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    • #3
      BCLepore:

      I also promoted young, only 29 (with 5 years on the department) when I made Lieutenant, Captain at 34, Asst Chief at 39, Deputy Chief at 44. We are a small department and promotions do not occur very often. My motivations for promotion were similar to yours.

      I still remember my first shift as Lieutenant when two of the senior men on my shift told me "we went to High School with your parents". I knew they were trying a power struggle so I just told them, "Great, I'll tell them you said hello. Here are your assignments for today."

      What helped me when I first moved up were: respecting the senior members-this included talking to the retirees that would stop in and listening to how the department used to operate (lots of great stories), trying really hard not to be the "book smart, snot nosed Lieutenant", continuing my education, learning from mistakes (both mine and others), learning how the FD operated administratively (budgeting, planning, etc), and who the key people were in other town departments and building positive relationships with them, and of course, helping any new member learn and adjust to the FD.

      I have known too many people who studied hard and received a promotion only for the bump in pay, not because they wanted to lead or have additional responsibility.

      Thanks for sharing an great story about the right reasons someone should seek a promotion.
      Last edited by KenNFD1219; 11-24-2006, 11:52 AM.
      -------------------
      "The most mediocre man or woman can suddenly seem dynamic, forceful, and decisive if he or she is mean enough." from "Crazy Bosses"
      -----------------------------------------------
      Genius has its limits, but stupidity is boundless.

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      • #4
        I too was promoted young. We're considered an small to average sized department where i'm from. I started when I was 19. Was promoted to LT, Capt, then Deputy Chief. All in 2 year intervals. I'm 27 now and I think I do my job very well. To all the young people out there thinking there age is going to hurt them, hard work, respecting people with rank, training, and experience is what counts. What I found make the position easier before you step into it is if you have the respect of your peers before your're promoted.

        My Mom met a FF from another Dept somewhere else in the Provence and she said my son is the DC, he said ya, Mike right? She asked if she knew me, he said no, but they always use him as examples in training courses. So around here it's not to commen for a person my age to hold this position. My DC peers from other departments in the Provence are in their late 30's and up, no one really my age. So appearently it's pretty rare to have someone like me. Just wanted to add my 2 cents.


        Mike Zajac
        Wetaskiwin, Alberta, Canada

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        • #5
          Volunteer vs. Career Advancement

          First time I ever posted:

          I began as a volunteer approximately 5 years ago. If there was ever an individual to make "rookie" mistakes, I was the guy. Through a process of listening to advise rather than learning the hard way, I began to develop the idea that I could succeed in the fire service. I was hired fulltime about 8 months after I began as a volunteer. I'm from a relatively small combination department. Since the majority of the department is volunteer, there is no formal promotional examination. Pay attention... This is where it gets crazy!! As a fulltime employee at 29, I am considered a firefighter. As a volunteer, I was or rather am, considered a Deputy Chief. The kicker for me is "How do I get a train ticket to a larger department, and receive recognition for my accomplishements in leadership abilities, management, and so forth?" It seems although the majority of departments in the U.S. are volunteer, many job postings for a management position would like a person who has progressively responsible management experience for approximately 10 years in a fulltime department. The answer I come up with is a B.S. Degree and great interview.
          I have achieved several certifications including, but not limited to, NPQ FF1, FF2, Hazmat Tech, and Inspector. Some say this seems odd for a small mostly volunteer department. The advantage I feel I have gained from starting in a volunteer department is versatility. I think if you can show leadership and management qualities with volunteers, you should be able to manage someone who is paid to be working. All of my personnel train hard, train wise, and train often. Each of us are constantly learning new techniques that are not exclusive to only large departments. I guess my concern is, " How do you start planning an reasonable career advancement plan around these obstacles? Any suggestions?" I am happy where I am, but if you are not planning ahead, you are being left behind.

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          • #6
            Paul- Good story. Randy Scheerer was an old instrcutor/mentor for me as well.

            Ken- I still remember my first shift as Lieutenant when two of the senior men on my shift told me "we went to High School with your parents". I knew they were trying a power struggle so I just told them, "Great, I'll tell them you said hello. Here are your assignments for today."

            I wish I could have written that line. Good one.

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