Work for 12 hours, drive 25 kilometers, run 1.65 miles in the pouring rain with very phlegmy lungs while recovering from the flu, do 40 push-ups, 3 minutes of lying straight-legged on my back holding my feet 14 inches off the ground, standing long-jump, obstacle course, grip strength test and then a number of balancing coordination drills- all this and be home in time for lunch. No, I didn't join the army. I had yet another opportunity to be one of many firefighters applying for an opening with a local department. Believe it or not, I am one of the lucky ones- a couple of hundred fully qualified applicants were eliminated before the process even began. It's a different world out there running in the rain at 7 oclock in the morning, than the one you read about in newspaper headlines "BC desperate for workers". Every one of those guys on the track have been working, volunteering, paying for additional courses, training physically, networking and preparing for interviews in the hopes they can get a little edge on their competition. It's a tough job market to enter. When telling people I am working towards a job as a firefighter, I often hear about how cushy a job it is and how easy firefighters have it. People don't see the other side of the equation- the amount of hard work and dedication required in the time before and immediately after a candidate gets hired. Some professions, like being an athlete or a firefighter, mean a lot of work up front before you'll ever get hired- but they are pretty good jobs once you do. Others, like driving a recycling truck, are pretty easy to get into but you pay the price that the job demands forever after. I think I am naturally drawn to the former type of job, and can happily trot around the track in the fresh morning air knowing I much prefer paying a little now than a lot later.
As a father of two young girls, I really hope that they will not be unnecessarily discriminated against on the basis of their gender or race. I would like to teach them that, merit, and not sex or skin colour, is what's important. Unfortunately, in their attempt to correct past issues, one local fire department seems to be hiring based on sexist/racist criteria. They recently announced that they would only hire white males for their fire department if they could not fill all of their vacancies with women or minorities. Although I understand the desire to have a civil work force more reflective of the population, it's hard to believe that this is the best approach to making changes. At the most recent firefighting test that I was at (with a different department), I did not see one candidate that wasn't a white male. Not one. Of the six hundred or so candidates that routinely apply to local departments, I would venture to guess that there are less than 50 that aren't white males. In response to this, this department stated that they would be willing to pay for the training of non-white male candidates if need be. While there are hundreds of applicants, who have spent thousands of dollars of their own money and a countless amount of time and energy to position themselves for the job, it appears they are the wrong race/gender. That is a questionable message in any profession, but particularly so in firefighting. Although firefighting can be a cushy job at times, it is one of the few professions where society asks people to take a calculated risk with their life in order to save other people. Firefighters have 2 important tools at their disposal to keep them safe. Firstly, they use top of the line personal protective equipment to keep them safe from a harsh environment. Secondly, they have a crew who they depend on with their lives should anything go wrong. If there is any job in the world that should be based on merit, it is firefighting. Fire doesn't care what colour or gender you are. When something goes wrong at a fire, being strong and fit, intelligent and skilled are all that matter.