Just last week we held one of our traditional firefighter recognition ceremonies called a "badge pinning." A badge pinning recognizes the entry into a firefighter's career and marks each promotion. The short ceremony includes comments by the fire chief, a swearing in, and the badge presentation. The probationary firefighter chooses who will pin the badge, and it is usually a family member.

Last week the badge was presented to a new Ashland firefighter/paramedic, our newest probationary firefighter. During the last 14 months, Ashland Fire & Rescue has hired seven new firefighters. Four of those firefighters replaced positions vacated due to retirements. Three of those positions are new and added one firefighter to each shift. Three of those firefighters have experienced their second badge pinning, representing that they have passed probation. Three are in the middle of their probation, and one has just started.

While it might seem odd to mark the beginning of a career with such fanfare, the probationary firefighter has already jumped through quite a few hoops before making it to this point. Besides the training, certifications and experience they bring with them, they have also completed a very competitive testing process. Before being hired, the probationary firefighter has successfully taken a written exam, a physical agility test, completed an assessment center, panel interview, a chief’s interview and a rigorous background check. The assessment center usually consists of multiple stations at which the candidate will demonstrate their knowledge and abilities in EMS, firefighting, customer service, presentation skills or other topics.

So what happens in a probationary firefighter's first year? During the first few weeks, probationary firefighters work a 40-hour work week with a Field Training Officer before joining a shift to work their 48-hour shifts. While they have already received training as a firefighter and have obtained their paramedic license, this is when they learn the methods of operation for Ashland Fire & Rescue. They learn the county's protocols for providing emergency medical services and where the medical supplies are on the ambulance. They learn the Ashland methods of firefighting and demonstrate their ability to perform firefighting skills including ladders, saws, hose and ventilation. Their training also includes company inspector training, burning rules, fire sprinkler training and other public education topics. Each new firefighter also receives special assignments such as CPR or CERT instructor.

The probationary period provides an opportunity for both the firefighter and the department to make sure that the fit is right. After successfully completing the probationary position for one year, the firefighter/paramedic then participates in their second badge pinning during which they receive a badge with “firefighter” and a number on the badge. That number will remain with them throughout their career at Ashland Fire & Rescue.

Beginning a new job can be quite overwhelming in any career. However, recognizing the assignments that these new probationary firefighters take on and the work and service that all of our firefighters continue to provide is pretty amazing. All of our firefighters are also paramedics. They see people in their worst and most vulnerable points in life and help to provide relief and comfort. We seek to select the best and provide them the best training so that they can provide the best service possible to our community.

The Alarm Box, a column with local public safety information, appears triweekly in the Tidings. Margueritte Hickman is a division chief/fire marshal with Ashland Fire & Rescue. Email topic suggestions to her at margueritte.hickman@ashland.or.us.