All fired up and working as a team when the heat's on

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 21 February, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 21 February, 2002, 12:00am

'It's more than a job, it's an adventure.' The recruitment slogan for the US armed forces is no longer in use, but it is a message of fraternity and adventure, with seductive associations for risky but activity-filled careers in the civilian league.

One such group is firefighters - a band of men and women who are willing to put their lives on the line to protect the public.

While images of bravery and self-sacrifice figure prominently in firefighter advertising campaigns, it is the personal characteristics that make for the best recruits, says Simon Lo Chun-man, acting regional officer, recruitment training and examination, Fire Services Department (FSD).

The FSD looks for more than the stereotype of macho bravery and physical strength in its recruits; it seeks disciplined recruits who can think as a team when the pressure is on.

Does this mean we are seeing the evolution of a smarter fireman? That might not be far off the mark, says Mr Lo, who points out that the buzzword in the force these days is 'team co-ordination'.

'We are a disciplined service,' Mr Lo says. 'The departmental goal is to get everyone working together. We always emphasise that we work as a team. When facing a big operation, all our units work together - from fire control down to the fire station and even to every fire services officer involved in that locality. It is a unique culture. When there's a problem, the whole department and all ranks must co-ordinate.'

The FSD estimates there are 139 openings for firemen this year, with a phased intake every three months. Unlike most government departments, it is one of the few slated for net jobs growth in the coming years. This is the result of new housing projects in outlying areas and urban redevelopment, which is changing the response strategy of the inner city departments. Currently, the force maintains 71 fire stations and 29 ambulance depots, with several new stations in the planning stage.

Another reason for expansion is the integration of new technologies. The tech impact is radically changing both on-site command and control strategies and overall resource planning to meet the community's fire-safety needs. 'Certainly, the department is expanding,' Mr Lo says. 'We are adjusting to new skills and technologies.'

With the continuing impact of technology evident in everyday duties, candidates should keep in mind that computer literacy, familiarity with new forms of communications and an overall technically-inclined mind are increasing sought after.

But fire-fighting candidates should also be ready to demonstrate exceptional physical fitness. Other important qualities are maturity, an outgoing personality, loyalty, and a personality predisposed to community service.

While fire-fighting, by nature a physical job, has its glamorous side, young candidates should be aware of the huge commitment involved, Mr Lo cautions. Because a fire station must be continuously manned, firemen should be prepared for shift work, which could be a strain on family life. As a civil servant, a candidate must also demonstrate model behaviour and be an example to the community.

If anyone is still undecided whether it is the job or the adventure that he is seeking, Mr Lo suggests this simple test: 'Ask yourself if you have a sense of commitment to serve the community. Am I ready to face the challenges of a fireman?'