Episode Transcription

[00:00:00] Matt: 18, 19 years old, fresh out of high school. They know they want to be firefighters. We got a job going here on the south side.

You’re listening to EMS. With your hosts, Eric Axene and Matt Ball.

[00:00:19] Erik: We know a lot of people out there that may be interested in becoming a fireman, but they may not know the first thing. Or, or maybe they’re looking for a new job and maybe firefighting’s a perfect, perfect match for them. What type of people might want to become a firefighter?

[00:00:33] Matt: Yeah, type of people, that’s interesting. Like, I never thought I was, would have been a fireman. Like, for a long time I was thinking about being a police officer. My brother is in law enforcement. And that’s kind of what I thought I would maybe do. And then I kind of did something similar to it, because in Illinois you had to be 21 to even apply.

And so I kind of did some work related to law enforcement. Didn’t like it. Wasn’t for me, but anyway, I didn’t become a fireman until I was 30 and so never thought about being a firefighter. I mean, it was never even on my radar. I think there’s some people that just know, like we get people all the time that come into the fire department.

They apply 18, 19 years old, fresh out of high school. They know they want to be firefighters, maybe dad or mom or somebody was grandpa. Somebody was a fireman. But yeah, I don’t know.

[00:01:22] Erik: It takes. From my perspective, I hear a lot of people saying, Oh, I could never do that because I can’t stand the sight of blood, or I could never do that because, you know, you fill in the blank.

Yeah. You know, do you think there are some misconceptions out there of, of barriers people might think they have to becoming a firefighter? You know, a lot of, as a physician, I, I, I hear people saying, Oh, I could never do that because I can’t stand sight of blood. The first time I saw blood in my training, I almost passed out.

Exactly. It was very discouraging to me, but over time you realize it’s no big deal. Right. But I thought it might be a big deal, but it’s not. And I bet you there are things, too, within the fire service. There may be people out there that would be great firefighters or paramedics, and they may have these artificial barriers in place, maybe.

[00:02:09] Matt: I would have never, again, never thought about being a fireman. It was never on my radar. For that reason, like, I don’t want to go on dead bodies and car wrecks and fires and all that. And I think it’s the training that makes the difference. People freak out when they see that stuff because they don’t know what to do with it.

They don’t know how to handle the situation, right? And once you get trained on what you’re supposed to do, you kind of, at least in my opinion, And probably you’re the same way as a physician. You’re not focusing on the blood. You’re focusing on what you need to do to stop the, the, the bleeding or the problem.

You know, so, I mean, yeah, nobody likes the sight of blood. I mean, I can’t stand it when somebody’s vomiting in front of me. Like that, you know, somebody making that gag vomiting sound, oof. There are plenty of firemen that don’t like that. You know, none of us I certainly don’t like the sight of blood, but I think the difference in the panic, oh, I can never do what you do.

I think it’s just the training. And knowing what to do in those emergencies where you just kind of, like I say, you go bypass the grotesqueness of it to do your job.

[00:03:13] Erik: So what I hear you saying is like, I think if you are considering Fire service, becoming a firefighter to be open minded, even with the things that you may perceive as a barrier, maybe get in there, maybe try it a little bit.

Are there opportunities? I know for me, I became a volunteer firefighter. Kind of got a little bit of a flavor, but are there other things that they can do to… There’s a taste for younger.

[00:03:36] Matt: I mean, yeah, we have programs with my fire department. We had, we used to have an explorer program. We don’t have that anymore, but there are some departments I’m sure that have a firefighter explorer program where in high school they would meet up once a month or a couple of times a month and they would kind of do the fireman things.

We have a camp with my fire department. We have a camp during the summer for kids. Citizens fire academies. We have those where they can do stuff. But I would say if you have a desire to help people, really help people the, the fire service is perfect for that, as you know, I mean, when there’s nobody else there, there’s backdraft, the famous movie that, you know, everybody watched, but there’s a famous line in that movie where Kurt Russell says, like when they didn’t know who else to call and I’m not, I don’t, I’m not quoting it verbatim, but it was basically when they don’t know who else to call, they just call the fire department.

We just show up. And that’s still rings true today. Like. There’s times where PD will be like, no, we’re not coming to that. We never say that the fire department never says we’re not coming. We will show up to your, whatever it is. And we’ll try to figure out, you know, how to fix it. But yeah, a strong desire to help people I think is, is probably the biggest thing you can get over the grotesqueness or whatever.

Now the firefighting side of it, that’s. You know, you’re going to have to kind of go to rookie school to realize claustrophobia is a big issue. People don’t realize that heights are a big issue. We’ve had people get up on a hundred foot area and just aerial and just completely freeze like they can’t, can’t operate.

And that’s just one of those things that you don’t know till you get up there really. And, and there’s nothing, I mean, you and I were both wrestlers and you know, you can claustrophobia, you know, you can get kind of claustrophobic being a wrestler sometimes if you get put in a bad spot. But in my opinion, nothing replicates having gear on and being blacked out and getting where you can’t move.

[00:05:27] Erik: That reminds me of a joke you told me.

[00:05:30] Matt: That’s a good joke. I love that. It’s my dad’s favorite joke of all time. But yeah, the claustrophobia is a big issue. Have you ever trained like mask covered up in volunteers?

[00:05:39] Erik: Yeah, yeah. Well, actually I did not too long ago at the station. I asked if I could join the guys in their training they were doing.

They had an area set up with walls. You know, confidence course. Yep. And they had a smoke machine and, and and then we, we parlayed that rescue exercise. It was a mayday into something where we had to carry a hose and something across the parking lot fully with the SCBA on. I burned through my air really fast.

[00:06:09] Matt: Yeah, it’s amazing. 45 minute bottles and they won’t last. I mean, even guys in really good shape, maybe 30 minutes. Cause you’re really working hard.

[00:06:19] Erik: Well, this is good. So we’re talking about some barriers that people may have. You know, whether it’s claustrophobia, fear of heights, you know, maybe a fear of even seeing blood.

These may or may not be important obstacles. I think you gotta kinda get out there. You know, one of the things that really appealed to me about becoming a volunteer firefighter was when I would see an accident on the road I found a part of me, not rubbernecking it, like looking, cause everybody kind of has a certain rubbernecking kind of mentality, we always want to see the trauma and the bent metal.

But I actually felt like, I wish there was something I could do. I wish there was something I could do to help these people. Cause you want to do that. Yeah. And I think that might be universal, but there are certain people that really want to get in there.

[00:07:07] Matt: Yeah, I would say it’s not universal. There’s people that don’t have any desire to help other people.

I mean, that’s evident by, you know, you see videos of…

[00:07:15] Erik: There’s always one in a crowd, but I would say that most people,

[00:07:18] Matt: I, but I, I don’t know. Most people that would actually take the step forward and step in and help somebody when, you know, there’s dangerous type of situation.

[00:07:29] Erik: I’m talking about people in general want to help someone when they’re hurting.

And I think you would agree with me. Yeah, yeah, yeah. There’s always. Yes.

[00:07:37] Matt: It’s a barrier to it. But yeah, Charles Manson’s of the world. Well, yeah, but I mean, you see, anyway, I mean, and I think the biggest thing is if you’re willing to somewhat put yourself in harm, somewhat put yourself in harm’s way. Siri wants to be a five, but somewhat put yourself in harm’s way in order to help people.

That is. The foundation, I think, of what it is to be a firefighter.

[00:08:00] Erik: There was a time, I was in San Francisco, and there was somebody who was doing something that they shouldn’t be doing, and it was in a public place, there were kids around, a lot of profanity, and there were two of us guys in this, we were at Fisherman’s Wharf, and there were two of us there that stood up and took care of it.

I don’t know, but we were assertive in getting them out of there. But you’re right though, a lot of the families that were there, the fathers sat silently. I couldn’t do that. No, I couldn’t either. So if you, if, I think if you’re watching this and you’re one of those types of people that really has a strong sense of justice and really wants to do something, I think those are, It doesn’t mean if you don’t do that, you’re not going to be a firefighter.

Right. Right.

[00:08:47] Matt: Any kind of public service, military, police, firefighter, paramedic, any of those things.

[00:08:52] Erik: Here’s another question for you, Matt. Is what are the positive things that people come into the fire service? You touched on it a little bit, but positive things that people will be attracted to the fire service, where if that’s the reason you’re doing it, bad idea.

For example, I have a colleague of mine who went into medicine just because he wanted to make money. Yeah, it’s and halfway through medical school, he saw how hard it was that, you know, he didn’t last. The money’s not enough. Yeah. I mean, if you’re doing it for money, then, you know, it’s not for you.

Motivation’s not but what, you know, I know my son is a volunteer firefighter. And one of the things he really liked was the thought that you could go to the gym and work out while you’re working.

[00:09:30] Matt: Yeah. You know, it’s true. You can’t hurt. It’s not only it’s I mean, it’s something you should do. You know, we’ve a lot of firefighters that don’t do that.

Yeah. And that’s something that you should do as a fireman because Being physically able to do your job is just as important as knowing what to do. Yep. But there’s lots of attributes. I would say one thing to remember, and I, I tell all new, our new employees this, is you always have to remember that a firefighter for years has been considered, if not, one of, if not the most,

There is no other profession except for probably a physician, but clergy, police, there’s not a lot of jobs where I can walk up to a house and a mother will walk out with her baby, not know my first name, not know me from Adam and hand her her most precious thing in her life and I take it, get into the back of an ambulance and drive off and she doesn’t even know who I am.

Yep. And the only reason why they do that is not because of who I am, it’s because of what I’m representing. And that’s the fire service, and that is a history of high ethics, high morals, high integrity, tremendous amount of character. People trust you. People tru well, they trust your uniform. They trust the uniform.

They trust the title. And so you have to be a person coming into the fire service is my job is to live up to that trust. My job is to not do anything to you know, disrespect or inhibit and, and, and hurt that reputation that firefighters have, because it’s super important that people in the community can have people like that, you know, that they can hand their children off to and know that.

They’re not going to do anything harmful. So you know, you definitely have to be a person of high ethics, high morals, a lot of character. And it’s competitive. Back when I got hired on, it was not too long after 9 11. And there was a huge push. Everybody wanted to be a fireman. I mean, I was testing at places.

And there was, you know, five, six, seven hundred people showing up. And they were hiring two people. I applied it was a civil service department not far from here. Fifteen hundred people showed up. They were hiring one person. So you talk about discouraging when you’re going and testing against fifteen hundred people and they’re hiring one, two, five.

So I know a lot of people get discouraged. Keep testing. I think I tested at twelve different fire departments before I got the call. But the process

[00:12:06] Erik: right now today, it’s pretty competitive today.

[00:12:07] Matt: It’s getting more competitive. Yeah, it’s getting more. You know, it kind of comes and goes, there’s people kind of goes away maybe a year or two ago.

We didn’t have a lot, especially during COVID people didn’t want to be first responders. They, we couldn’t hire anybody. We were struggling to get applicants through the door. But now I think it’s starting to come back again, which is good. But what was I going to say as far as the process, You know, you take a written test in that large group, and then every department, every state, every department…

[00:12:36] Erik: How do you sign up to take a test? I mean, I know how I got into the process, but… Right. Typically, how would somebody who’s never… Never had no idea. No idea, like, what’s the first step they would take to, to look into beginning the process, which you’re about to describe? Yeah. What’s the step before the test?

How do they get into this?

[00:12:54] Matt: Yeah. So every again, every state, every department is different. So some departments are going to require some sort of some level of certification. Some departments like my department, they will hire you right off the street with just 18 years of age. You know, high school diploma, they’ll, they’ll, you’re eligible for hire.

When I hired on, you had to at least be a firefighter EMT and it was firefighter paramedic preferred, which meant I had to put myself through fire school and EMT school and I was actually starting paramedic school. When I got the phone call. So look at your local departments, go to their websites, look up the city of whatever fire department, go to their websites and they should have something on there about you know, for applicants, what are the prerequisites for hiring?

And there should, it should spell it out pretty clear. 18 years of age, 21 drivers license, you know, clear background check, all that stuff. So if you go to any city’s website, And look up their fire department. They should have all those qualifications that you’ll need on there. And it should also tell you their test dates.

Like if they have a test date coming up, they’ll say next rookie test date or next new hire test date will be April whatever. And you can sign up for it usually through the city’s or that department’s website.

[00:14:09] Erik: You could also go through your local community college where there’s a fire. Yeah. If they have one Yeah.

Program. If they have one. Yeah. And then go that route as well. Yep,

[00:14:18] Matt: yep. Yeah. The city, the, the website is the way that I kind of went about it. I I looked up all the cities around here and saw who was testing Uhhuh . So yeah, so you sign up for a test and usually every department will have one test a year, if not more, but they’ll usually have at least one test a year.

You’ll go in, you take a written exam, which like, you know, it’s kind of a basic aptitude test, you know, basic math, maybe some mechanics. There’s some different ones out there. They’re kind of hard to study for their general knowledge test. You can buy books at bookstores or rent books at the library that will kind of help you prepare for them, but they’re just general knowledge tests.

But usually you have to score fairly high in a pretty high percentile to get selected to go to the next step, which would be the physical test, right? Well, not everywhere. Yes. Most of the time was for me. And it was the same for me is that most of the time you did your written exam and then you went to your physical.

That’s pretty common, but not every again. Not everywhere is the same. I know one department. They’ve done away with the written exam and they just do a physical and then you go to an interview. So it’s very different. You just have to look up that department and see what they do. Yeah.

[00:15:21] Erik: We had the, the test at a local community college.

And then, and then we would be invited out to the physical test, the p a t they called it. Yep. And then physical agility or physical aptitude test or whatever.

[00:15:32] Matt: Yeah, physical ability, physical agility.

[00:15:34] Erik: Yeah. Yeah. And then the and then we had an interview. Yeah, it was the interview.

[00:15:38] Matt: Yeah. It’s, that’s the standard process.

But again, Everybody’s different. So I would say the majority departments because that’s a good way to weed people out is in the masses. You do written, then you do a physical thing that’s going to weed a lot of those people out and you’ll see the people who really want to be there through that process.

So if you have 500 people show up, you’re not going to have, you know, probably 300. Either they’re not going to make the cut with the grade or they’re not going to make the cut physically. So now you’re down to 300. Well then you usually go into, and every facet, those are the facets at least, whichever order they’re in.

Sometimes you might go in and have a chief’s interview right there and get a conditional job offer. And then you go do your polygraph and your psych. That’s not how it works all the time. Polygraph?

[00:16:23] Erik: Yeah. They did not do a polygraph for me. I slipped through the cracks. It’s a good thing they didn’t do a polygraph.

[00:16:28] Matt: When I tested with my department, we were the first group that ever did polygraphs. And that is not a fun experience. Did you pass? I did pass, well obviously I passed, yeah. Well, come on. I know the truth. Yeah, you do. I tell ya, I’ve told several people, I’ve told that polygraph examiner things I’ve only told Jesus.

Yeah, I mean it’s, that is a stressful time. So the process for me was written test, physical agility, and then they have a list. And I actually didn’t make the original cut. I only scored an 89 on my department’s test. Normally doesn’t even get you looked at, right? I had scored much higher on other tests.

But anyway, I scored an 89 on my test. Didn’t, didn’t get hit the first wave. I took the test in April. I thought, okay, 89, that’s not gonna cut it. Move on to the next one, right? Got a call in August. So four months later, I got a call at where I was working. And they’re like, hey, are you still interested? I said, yeah, I’m still interested.

So I went back then. I had done the written and the physical. Passed both of those. But they called me back four months later and they said, well, we have an opening now and your name’s top of the list. So at that point went in, I had to do, they set up interviews. I had interviews and again, every department’s different, but I interviewed with three firefighters.

And then I went into a separate room, separate interview with three officers. There was two captains and a battalion chief. So there was just kind of that firefighter. I’ve had other ones with panel interviews. With two firefighters, two drivers, two captains, and two battalion chiefs. All in the same room at once, all throwing you questions.

So everybody’s different in how they do their interviews. But passed the interview. And then I had to do a polygraph. Very stressful. And then, we had to do a psychological evaluation. So a bunch of written tests.

[00:18:09] Erik: I didn’t have to do a polygraph or a psyche eval.

[00:18:12] Matt: And the psyche eval is very subjective.

Depends a lot on who you get, who the doctor is that talks to you. Huh. The, the doctor that I had was, I mean, we just literally sat there and had a conversation for like 30 minutes and she’s like, yeah, you’re good to go. But anyway other people have gone in there and been like, oh, you’ve jumped out of an airplane.

Oh, you’re an adrenaline junkie. We’re going to kick you out of the process. And we’ve had people actually contest that saying, wait a minute. Just because I jumped out of an airplane doesn’t mean I’m an adrenaline junkie. But they failed the process because this doctor said.

[00:18:41] Erik: Oh, they have a parachute on when they jumped out?

[00:18:43] Matt: Yeah. Yeah. This wasn’t Travis Pastrana. But yeah, they, they, and then they challenged it. They said, if I paid, if I’ll pay for my own psychological test, will you guys take the results if they’re different? And they said, yeah, I’ve heard that happen a couple of times. So that is a very subjective process.

[00:18:59] Erik: That determination and persistence and perseverance, that, that, that grit, that says something. About somebody who really wants this, right?

[00:19:08] Matt: Yes, you, this is not a, yeah, this is not a fleeting thing. You’re not, now, we have had people because it was, we were hurting for people again a year or two ago. And there was, you know, maybe less than qualified people that were getting the job.

Because we didn’t, it wasn’t super competitive. And that’s not, I don’t think that’s a good thing for our communities. We’re getting people in there that are kind of sliding through the cracks. And really, maybe don’t really want to be firefighters or paramedics. One of the things I will say about the modern day fire service that I think is just reality, regardless of how people feel about it, this is reality.

That the medical side of it is huge. Now, obviously doing what we do, I enjoy the EMS side. I, I like the EMS side, but unless you’re working really in a major metropolitan area, a big city, You’re not going to do a lot of firefighting, you know, fire nationally. I think it’s like 2% overall. It is 2%.

[00:20:02] Erik: Yeah.

The last year nationwide.

[00:20:05] Matt: And that’s including cities like New York and Chicago and LA. Right. That’s including those cities where that’s where you’re having a bulk of those.

[00:20:12] Erik: Some of these newer communities where you may want to live. Yeah. It’s, it’s,

[00:20:16] Matt: I think our calls in my city, I mean, it’s like less than 1% of our calls.

are like actual structure fires. I mean, we fight fire, you know, but I mean, you’re looking at doing that a couple of times a year, you know, we definitely fight fire where I’m running your, you know, we’re running numerous medical calls every day. So a lot of people go into it because they see rescue me or back draft or ladder 49.

They see all these movies and they think, Oh, every day I’m going to be You know, hanging out windows, saving babies out of buildings. Like, no, that’s not reality.

[00:20:47] Erik: That’s good, you know, that’s good that you say that. I, I wonder too are there any other misconceptions? Anything else where people want to do it because of this reason that most of what we do is


[00:20:58] Matt: I would say a lot of people think that it’s like all this adrenaline in your, even if it’s a medical call, it’s just life or death. Every call you get, and that’s not how it is. The majority of our calls are just run of the mill sick people calls you know, falls, just run of the mill things. And it’s followed kind of like people have talked about before about like law enforcement.

Like it’s 90% boredom, followed up by 10% of pure adrenaline. And so when we have, you know, life threatening calls. You know, it’s very exciting if you, you know, extrications or fires or a critical medical patient. Yeah, it’s, it’s, you know, you’ll be sitting there eating dinner and the next thing you know you’re delivering a baby or working a trauma or, you know, you just never know the beauty.

What I love about it is you never know. What every shift is going to bring you. You might walk in and be slow. You might walk in and be busy. You might have just normal calls. You might have crazy calls. You just don’t know. And that’s what I like about it is the, just the randomness of it. It’s, it’s all over the place.

[00:21:55] Erik: I have a question for you. What if I was an applicant that was a fool in my younger years and I have a police record? Yeah. And maybe, maybe even a felony. Can I even apply? It was 10 years ago. It was a foolish 18 year old.

[00:22:10] Matt: Yeah, it would depend on the department. I’ll say that every department has different rules.

A felony is going to be a little bit hard to get passed. I would think in most departments.

[00:22:20] Erik: But a police record misdemeanor, no big deal.

[00:22:23] Matt: Well, I mean, again, that totally depends on the, on the department. Some might say you can have no criminal record, none whatsoever. Again, and it’s not about, it’s about keeping, maintaining that level of integrity of firefighters of, we can’t be hiring people who are felons, you know, and even if they’re reformed or, you know, whatever.

So I would say it’s, it’s specific to each department. I would say most of the time, if you have a felony or a criminal record, that wouldn’t necessarily mean you’re done. But I would encourage anybody that’s a young person that’s considering the fire department as, as a career. To not get in trouble that the cleaner your background is the better because they will do a full background on you.

Stay away from drugs. Stay away from drugs. Don’t drink and drive. Don’t be at parties with other these knuckle headed kids doing stuff. They will go back and I mean they’ll call people. They’ll do a very extensive. Social media too now. Social media. That’s another thing we do is our investigators with the fire department is they will look at all your social media pages.

And they’ll go back and look at all your posts. And like, okay, they’ll try to get a feel for what is this person like? Is he you know, are they a racist? Are they are they in, you know, whatever it is, you know, are they into whatever, you know, whatever thing it is that says it’s kind of strange. Is this the image that we want for our firefighters, you know, that they’re putting this out there on their days off?

That’s important. To the fire department, to the cities you work for. So yeah, be cautious of what you put out there online. Watch your background. Don’t do drugs. All that kind of stuff.

[00:23:55] Erik: How much does it cost to go to school or to become a firefighter? I mean, what’s the cost involved in it? Or do fire departments pay for schooling?

So again, That’s the way it was for me. Yeah. The, the department I tested at had their own fire academy. And, and that, that was part of. The perk, I guess you could say, they paid for my training, but they wanted people who had not had any training, like you mentioned. Yeah. But what if you wanted to go to a fire academy, your local community college, I mean, it’s just like a year long, I mean, about a year course?

[00:24:27] Matt: Yeah, for fire school, yeah, you’re looking at anywhere from, depending on how you do it, if it’s shift based or you’re doing it every day during the week. That would be much faster but maybe if you’re going to school shift based, that might take you up to a year to do fire school. A lot of places, they might combine firefighter and EMT into one whole course.

So, currently, I don’t know what the cost would be, because I did this almost 20 years ago. So it would be I went to like a private school. There are some private schools. I would suggest going through a college. It’s a little bit better. More legitimate, I would think. Probably better facilities. So I would just say, look at your local colleges and see what the cost is.

It’s going to cost you a couple thousand bucks, but every department’s different. Again, my department, you can apply with nothing. You can apply right off the street and we will pay you a pretty good salary. Just to go to fire school, then to go to EMT school and then go to paramedic school. And then, I mean, you’ll be, it’ll be two years before you’re running calls and going through all that.

[00:25:27] Erik: And so all we’ve talked about so far has really been the process of making the decision to become a firefighter. Yeah. I think we need to continue this conversation and maybe talk about what life is like as a firefighter. Yeah. See what we’re getting into. Yeah.

[00:25:41] Matt: It’s, that’s a, a whole nother topic.

[00:25:44] Erik: It is, but you know, this has been, I think this is a good first step.

I’m, I’m thinking of my son actually. Yeah. And as he would explore a new occupation. These are the things I would want him to know. I think these are smart things to think about as you approach a potential career change or maybe a new career.

[00:25:59] Matt: Yeah. And we get people from teenagers to, we’ve had… I’ve had, you know, people in their thirties and forties that have decided to quit their job and become a fireman.

They wanted to do something meaningful with their life. And some of them get in and they’re like, Oh, this isn’t what I thought it was going to be, you know? Yeah. And, and the EMS side of it, there’s a lot of it. They’re like, man, I didn’t think we’d be just running medical calls all day long. I think that’s the reality of the modern day fire services.

That’s really what you’re doing. Is running those medical calls.

[00:26:25] Erik: Question for you, as we end the first part of this anyway, are you glad you became a firefighter?

[00:26:32] Matt: For sure. It’s the greatest job in the world.

[00:26:33] Erik: I knew you were going to say that, but I just wanted to hear it.

[00:26:35] Matt: But it’s true. I mean, it really is.

It’s, it’s, yeah, it’s fantastic job.

[00:26:39] Erik: Awesome. Well, this has been good. Thanks, Matt.