On The Job


It’s more than runs and workers; It’s your attitude




This article has been in the works for decades, I just didn’t realize it was going to happen until recently. Those of you that know me personally know that I’ve been on the job for over sixteen years. While on duty a few weeks ago, I had a close friend visit the firehouse; he, in turn, had brought his friend. Both were in the process of applying for the position of firefighter in a neighboring jurisdiction. After giving them a tour of the property, the latter of the two asked if our organization was aggressive or if we typically just stood outside and lobbed water in the windows. I couldn’t believe he actually had the audacity to ask me that within the confined of the same government walls he was considering trying to work for.

Although I was quick to correct him, in hindsight, I wish I would have done both him and our department a favor and asked him not to go through the process any further. I was infuriated; after all, I own the place, along with 1,400 of my closest friends. The pride that we feel for our department is limitless.

If you haven’t heard it before, both Mike and I work for two separate, but large organizations in the DC Metro area. I almost feel bad for whoever asks us which of the two departments they should test for because if they think they’ll be good it almost always turns into a tug of war. We’d each tell interested party that the respective one we work for is the best and rightfully so; there is very much a sense of ownership in what we do and who we do it for.

To be honest, if you are attempting to become a career firefighter the answer is really quite simply. You have to do the homework on your own and you need to apply when and where you can. I understand that there are jurisdictions that for whatever reason, you simply cannot try. I was in the same boat nearly two decades ago. But as a firefighter candidate, however, you may not have the right or the luxury to be so selective. After all, there are literally tens of thousands of men and women waiting in line behind you. It would be smart to suggest that you spend your time and money wisely but to those of us who have worked so hard to get where we are it is an insult to imply you are any less committed.

On the Job with the IAFFAll of this was the first thing that came to my mind this morning when I read that someone else was inquiring about whether or not it was worth applying to yet another municipality. The question was asked if I had any connections to a department that five generations of my family have served in and if it would be a good career choice. In his defense, he’s a good man and I’m sure he didn’t know my background. But my immediate thought was that if I had any connections, certainly I would have taken advantage of it with a legacy as big as mine. The City of Erie is a proud fire department and they have every reason to be. I will never be a part of what seven other men in my family were before me. But that doesn’t change the fact that the one I work for is one of the best in the world. Truth be told, even if I had gotten hired by the EFD fair and square, there are those who would say it was only through nepotism. I worked very hard for what I have and I can tell you that I wouldn’t trade places with anyone. The same opportunities that I’ve had throughout my tenure may not have been afforded to me if it were any different. Without a doubt, my department is one of the best in the nation.

The fact of the matter is if you truly want to be a career firefighter, you get in where you can. That doesn’t mean you have to settle; it just means that you will then have room to spread your wings. You make the best of it until you decide that you are content with where you are or you find somewhere or something else. Be forewarned though, if you aren’t happy where you are, many (including me) will ask what you’re doing to make a change either within the organization or within yourself. It’s not because we’re trying to give you a hard time, it’s just because we care and we prefer to associate ourselves we like-minded people who are motivated to take action one way or another.

In any case, remember to be patient and persistent and I’m sure it will pay off. I wish you all the best but if you refuse to lose, you won’t need it.


Top photo courtesy of Lloyd Mitchell Photography, used with permission. Members of Engine Company 283 and Ladder Company 174 after a first-due, all-hands fire in East New York.


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BillSchnaekelBioPhotoBill Schnaekel was born and raised in Erie, Pennsylvania, Bill is a fifth generation firefighter who has had eight other relatives in the fire service since 1898. He served as a volunteer for six years prior to getting hired in 1998 by the Fairfax County (VA) Fire and Rescue Department, one hundred years after his great-great grandfather had joined the service. In addition to his full time career as a Lieutenant in the bustling 4th Battalion, Bill works part time as a firefighter / chauffeur with the West York Fire Department and as a State Suppression Instructor in Pennsylvania. In the past, he has served as a Battalion Training Officer and assisted in training both recruits and field personnel at the Fire and Rescue Academy. Currently, he is working on a degree in fire science through Tidewater Community College. In February of 2013, he created the Facebook Page “Holding1and1“, a resource to discuss fireground operations and firefighter interests with his friend, Lt. Mike Dowling.

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  • Dan says:

    I feel there is not much one can do other then pass all the test and wait. If a department wants you, they will take you. In my experience I have been more then qualified for a position, passed all the test and the person right off the street got the job over me. When you have the right attitude, training and experience and someone who has never spend a day in the fire service gets the position, you have got to think the system is broken. I have seen many a qualified person get passed over for a career position for a person off the street, it just does not make sense. BTW I’m a volunteer for a large organizations in the DC Metro area.

  • Dan, If you are willing to listen to advice, I might have some for you. Please feel free to contact me through my email. It is leatherlungs8@Hotmail.com.

  • Greg Hall says:

    Bill, Your article hit the nail on the head. I think I just found a new Blog.


  • Thanks, Greg. I am happy to hear that you enjoyed it and appreciate the feedback. Please be sure to look through all of the other articles here written by our friends. If you’re feelin’ squirrelly, check out the following sites on FB:

    Firefighter Basics
    A View From the Front Seat
    Firefighter Behavior

  • L. Brown says:

    “…if you aren’t happy where you are, many (including me) will ask what you’re doing to make a change either within the organization or within yourself. It’s not because we’re trying to give you a hard time, it’s just because we care and we prefer to associate ourselves we like-minded people who are motivated to take action one way or another.”

    This exact thought creeps into my head almost every hour on the hour while on duty. Wasn’t satisfied with my 15-year career in the private sector and worked hard to become a full-time firefighter. Truly love my job now. Others need to make that personal assessment and either fix their situation or fix their attitude. Thanks for a great post.

  • Thank you, L. Brown and welcome to the greatest job on earth. 🙂

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