Day in the Life of a Fire Recruit

by Justin Brittle, Fire Fighter- Division of Fire

“Good morning Sir. Recruit Academy 7-1 is present and accounted for. There are no other matters to report today, Sir.”

Twenty-two Henrico Fire recruits stand at attention in muster formation ready for the day, awaiting their first test – inspection. Eyes forward, staring into the morning sky, they undoubtedly feel a mix of nerves and subdued excitement as this is the culmination of a six-month hiring process. These individuals are here not only for the thrill and risk inherently involved in firefighting, but because they demonstrate high moral character and are passionate about public service. But before they can learn to save lives and put out fires, they must pass muster. Each recruit has spent several hours ironing clothes, lint rolling, polishing belt buckles, and spit shining boots. While the morning routine, with its emphasis on professional appearance, may seem tedious, the recruits are learning to pay attention to the little things – the things that, in this profession, can literally be a matter of life and death.

The Henrico Fire Recruit Academy is a 30-week structured program which introduces all essential job performance competencies. The recruits first learn about the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Incident Command System which is the standardized management tool used by Henrico Fire, and most federal, state and local governments, for meeting the demands of small or large emergency and non-emergency situations. Once they learn the system, recruits spend seven intensive weeks learning the basics of emergency medicine. Recruits learn the fundamentals of anatomy and physiology and how to provide critical and emergent care to medical and trauma patients. Through their applied effort, studying, practical and written testing, each recruit will earn an Emergency Medical Technician EMT)-B certification from Virginia’s Office of Emergency Medical Services.

Although becoming EMT-certified is no small task, the recruits have just finished the “easy” segment of the academy. The remaining 21-weeks involve heavy work and play out at the Drill School, located at Woodman Road. This is where the recruits will hone their practical skills, build their emotional acumen, and enhance their physical strength and endurance. It is here that recruits are first introduced to their new Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), including a firefighter’s most significant resource, the Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA). Becoming comfortable and competent in their SCBA, particularly their face-piece, can be a daunting task. Initially, it is not uncommon for recruits to be apprehensive or to be claustrophobic while donning their SCBA, especially during periods of physical exertion. However, success as a firefighter includes overcoming any distress or anxiety and performing all fire-ground tasks while “masked-up.”

Mastering the SCBA is an essential skill and it’s the first to be introduced at the drill school, but several arduous and physically demanding skills remain in the recruits’ journey to success. Throwing ladders, forcing doors, advancing charged hose-lines, and performing Mayday operations, all involve many hours of classroom instruction and hands-on practice. In addition to the physical skills developed, recruits develop a working knowledge of building construction, fire behavior, tactical ventilation and fire protection systems. Once recruits master core knowledge and perfect essential job skills, they qualify to earn their National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) Firefighter 1 and Firefighter 2 certifications which, along with their EMT certification, is required for graduation. Before the recruits earn placement as a probationary firefighter in the District, they must prove to the Instructor Cadre that they know the Henrico Way – that they perform above the minimum standard to meet the high expectations set forth by the Division of Fire and the community they serve.

Hours of EMT preparation and weeks of long days training at the Drill School completing skill sessions, live fire evolution’s, and countless trips up and down the infamous tower ultimately pay off for those who make it through the process. The recruits are sorely tested during their 30-week journey. Each day begins with the muster drill as a reminder that it is the small things that matter in this profession. In the words of Firefighter Lam Le, a recent graduate of Recruit Academy 70, now stationed at Station 12, “Recruit school is long and difficult, but you learn a great deal not only about Fire and EMS, but about who you are, and it is definitely worth it in the end.” As the recruits transition to probationary firefighters, each exemplifies the Division of Fire’s core values – Professionalism, Respect, Integrity, Dedication, and Empathy — P.R.I.D.E.

Henrico Fire opens its application process annually on December 1. If you know someone who demonstrates P.R.I.D.E. in their daily lives and has a heart for service, please consider encouraging him or her to become part of our family. General information regarding the hiring process can be found at our recruiting site.