NORTH LIBERTY– Chief of department Edward Croker of the city of New York (1899-1911), once said, “When a man becomes a fireman his greatest act of bravery has been accomplished. What he does after that is all in the line of work. Firefighters do not regard themselves as heroes because they do what the business requires.”
Ten new recruits of the North Liberty Fire Department (NLFD) will spend the next year learning the business as probationary firefighters. Nine of them were welcomed into the volunteer department during an orientation session Saturday, Dec. 7. The tenth was taking his practical examination for certification as a paramedic, a valid excuse to NLFD assistant chief William Schmooke, the man in charge of recruitment and retention. The group of nine men and one woman make up the largest recruit class in the history of the department. Schmooke told them over 20 were considered, but these individuals rose to the top.
“You showed us something that impressed us,” Schmooke said, even though other applicants already had experience or certifications. “You were either committed to your community or you were humble and you had the passion to be a firefighter. Those are the kind of people we want to fill these seats.” He told them the skills of firefighting can be taught to just about anybody, but, “it’s the attitude we hire for.”
“We are looking for men and women that truly care for this community, that want to be part of a team that lives by a collective code of conduct in which we are humble, driven professionals that maintain the positive mental attitude necessary to train hard and be there for others in times of need,” said Schmooke. That mindset, he said, is one that lends itself to a willingness to sacrifice for the greater good. “We are providing a service, and we need to always be training to provide our customers with quality firefighting and EMS (Emergency Medical Services).”
“(Being a firefighter with the NLFD) has redefined me as a person and a professional,” said Schmooke, who has been with the department for nearly eight years and is a career firefighter with the Iowa City Fire Department. “When the tones go off, you are the ones next to the emergency. You are the ones dealing with someone’s really bad day. So you’re going to have to hold yourself to a very high standard of integrity, be dedicated to your training, and be a dedicated professional.” Schmooke said to be a part of the fire service isn’t a right, “it’s a privilege. When you walk through that door, please walk through it with a humble attitude.” He urged the recruits to be willing to listen and learn, and understand the importance of their service.
Captain Kramer laid out the course of training and expectations for the probationary firefighters. With the expectations comes great responsibility, he told them.
“This is your fire service family now. We’re not just North Liberty firefighters, we’re part of a worldwide phenomenon known as firefighters; no other organization has the same brotherhood that the fire service does. It’s a common bond that we have.” It’s not about the individual, he said, but about everybody in the fire service. “It’s about us providing for our community a quality product that you can be proud of.”
Austin Hershberger, NLFD training lieutenant, pointed out if somebody needs work done on their house, they can solicit bids and hire whoever they feel the most comfortable with. But when an emergency occurs, “they get us,” Hershberger said. “So we’re expected to be excellent.”
Kramer noted the rookies now make up 25 percent of the fire department. Prior to the recruit class, the department was at its lowest point in membership while also at its highest number of emergency responses.
“Understand how important it is for you guys to come here, learn your stuff, work your butts off and be good at your job. We’re going to make you guys the best firefighters around,” Kramer said.
To do so, the probationary firefighters will undergo an intensive training program, including Firefighter 1 and Firefighter 2 certification. They also will have to earn their EMT certification within 30 months of joining the department. In addition, they will have assigned duties including station housekeeping, truck and equipment checks and public education events, as well as preparing for Salute to Summer, the department’s annual major fundraising event. They also will be responsible for attending department training sessions separate from their weekly recruit classes, and will be expected to respond to as many calls for service as possible.
And those calls come in at all hours of the day and night. The day of the session, the department was paged to two calls after midnight, one shortly before the orientation session started, and one during.
For awhile the new recruits won’t actually be going out on the trucks to the scenes, but will be expected to occupy their time cleaning the station or practicing with equipment, and being on hand to wash trucks upon their return. Once they have been issued protective clothing (turnout gear), and are signed off on several objectives, they will start going on calls.
“This isn’t for everybody,” Kramer said. At least one of the 10 will likely quit, as the probationary program requires between 60 to 100 hours per month of commitment. “You all turned a page in your life today by walking through the door and coming in here.
“You signed up for a job,” Kramer added. “Be good at it.”