Tahoe Chief’s Corner: There’s no better time to be a firefighter
OLYMPIC VALLEY, Calif. — One of the great pleasures and honors of my job is meeting young people who have an interest in a career in the fire service and discussing our industry and how to gain employment in it.
Fire service employment has a decidedly cyclic aspect to it; during times of economic prosperity, there are a lot of jobs in public safety, while during times of economic challenge, it is much more difficult to find a job in the fire service. Currently, there is tremendous opportunity for a fire service career.
Firefighters in the Lake Tahoe/Truckee area have a terrific lifestyle — all of the departments in this area pay solid wages and have wonderful benefits.
Firefighters in this area generally work a “48/96” schedule — two days on followed by four days off — which allows us time to recreate, be present and engaged as parents, work another job, or complete higher education or work towards an advanced degree.
In addition to those personal benefits, it’s a career that makes a very tangible and important contribution to the community, and we’re greatly appreciated and trusted by the people that we serve.
It’s a demanding job that can exact a physical and emotional toll over the course of a career, but we’re getting better at identifying and addressing the conditions that are most significant in hurting firefighter bodies and hearts.
How can you go about becoming a firefighter? My start as a Squaw Valley volunteer firefighter in 1981 was typical of that time, and while the volunteer fire service continues to thrive in many parts of the country, it is essentially extinct in the Tahoe/Truckee area.
There are excellent community college fire and EMS training programs locally, which can be a way to learn more about the fire service, receive EMT-Basic training or complete a full fire academy curriculum.
While large municipal departments require no experience and start the training process from the very beginning, many smaller departments look for candidates who have a firefighter certification from the Office of the State Fire Marshal — the classroom portion of that certification can be acquired at the community college level.
Achieving Firefighter 1 certification combined with licensure and accreditation as a Paramedic opens a lot of doors, but many departments will take on someone with a fire academy diploma and an EMT-B card as a part-time employee, and then mentor them through the Firefighter 1 internship and certification and Paramedic school.
There are also opportunities to receive training and work experience as a seasonal firefighter for both Calfire and the U.S. Forest Service, a rewarding experience on its own and one that makes a better candidate for employment with a municipal department.
So … if you enjoy variety in your work, have a strong back, a cool head, a caring heart, and a desire to take on a difficult job that your community will truly appreciate, think about a career in the fire service.
The opportunities for fire service employment are excellent and — ask any firefighter — it’s the best job in the world!
Pete Bansen is chief of the Squaw Valley Fire Department. Visit svpsd.org/svfd/fire to learn more.