With over two decades of experience in the fire service, Dave Robertson has seen it all. Working in rural, semi-rural, and urban fire departments, he has responded to numerous calls and has been exposed to the full spectrum of fire department culture. He has also been involved in teaching at paramedic schools and fire academies and has had a hand in training, mentoring, and hiring. He lives by a personal life credo of saying yes to any new challenge, allowing him to experience many different opportunities. His life pursuits, combined with his firefighter life, have enabled him to understand that fire departments hire well-rounded, worldly individuals. Above all, Dave’s level of service, commitment, and care remain at the highest level. Even though he doesn’t respond as a firefighter anyone, he does respond in command capacities. For his students, recruits, fellow firefighters, and the citizens he has sworn to protect, he continues to care deeply for their safety and well-being.
The best advice I ever received was the worst advice I ever got - to not blindly rely on the words of others and to be critical of the things that get presented to me. Ask for other people's advice, do research, and make sure it's the right decision for you. Transcript: "The best advice I've ever received. This was such a great question. I had to think about it. I've received a lot of advice in my life. A lot of it. Great. But weirdly, I think the best advice I ever received was the worst advice I ever received. I had been working an internship in college at an advertising agency in my previous career. At the end of my internship, I was supposed to go back to school. The head of the ad agency offered me a job. I said, I can't take the job. I'm going back to school. He said, what are you going to school for? I said, I want to work in an ad agency. He said, I'm offering you a job in an ad agency. He basically talked me out of completing my education. He was very well intentioned. It was definitely not a mean thing. But it taught me to not blindly rely on the words of others. To actually dig in and be critical of the things that I get presented with. When people give me certain arguments towards things or ideas or even advice, I don't just kind of close my eyes and just blindly run with it. I tend to dig in, do a lot of research, ask other people for their advice as well on that subject. So yeah, I eventually did go back to school and finish. But it was horrible advice. And it turned out to suit me very, very well."
Yes, I have worn a load-bearing vest for training to become a firefighter. However, caution should be taken and good stretching and footwear should be used when wearing the vest to avoid injury. Transcript: "Hi Donald, you asked if I could wear a low bearing vest, would I? I wouldn't anymore. Low bearing vests are typically used for training. To become a firefighter, there are a number of different styles of candidate physical agility tests, CPATs. They very often include carrying SCBAs, carrying weights, some of them even include putting on a weighted vest and they have a Stairmaster component to the physical agility. So in training for those, as I was applying for fire departments, trying to be in the best possible shape I could, I did utilize a weight bearing vest. As a matter of fact, I used a backpack and I would put weights in the backpack and would just hit the Stairmaster for a long time. That was a couple years ago, I was in much better shape then. So would I? Yes I would. With caution, care for your back, care for your knees, great footwear, good stretching, don't overdo it like anything else. But I do think that there is a place for wearing a low bearing vest in training for those agility tests."
Don't worry about getting lots of certifications, focus on exhibiting a serious level of passion and sincerity for wanting to serve others when applying. Demonstrate your authentic desire to care for firefighters and citizens alike. Transcript: "What tips would I give to an aspiring firefighter? Two big ones. I'm gonna start with the smaller one and then end with the most important. Smaller one is calm down on all the certifications. I've sat on, I don't know how many interviews and I gotta tell you, I don't care that you've got 12 or 13 fire-related certifications. It does not make you look better. Your resume does not jump out. What jumps out is you, really. It is what level of passion do you have for this? What level of sincerity and authenticity are you approaching all this with? When I talk to you, even when you're handing in the application at the front office, are you exuding that kind of serious level of passion for wanting to serve others, to really care for your fellow firefighters, to grow within that relationship, and to really deeply care for the citizens that we are sworn to protect? Be driven by passion, be driven by authenticity. Get a good, long, deep into your heart and into your head as to why you're sitting in that interview chair. Stop stacking your resume. Some of them are good, especially if they're ones that you have a passion about, but in the end, a bunch of extras are about you cutting a check to a school and getting a piece of paper. I really don't care about that."
The two biggest challenges for female first responders in a male-dominated environment are finding their voice and navigating the unfair playing field which is tilted towards men, particularly white men. Transcript: "There are actually two big challenges I believe for the female first responder in this male dominated environment in the fire service. The first one being finding their voice. That's not their fault. It seems like a lot of times when a woman in the fire service tries to raise her voice and says this has gone wrong or some undue obstacles have been put in front of me, that male dominated environment will push back and consequently some women have gone quiet. I don't blame them. So it's very hard for me to kind of say just find your voice. I don't quite know what the solution is with that but I do think it's a huge challenge is finding your voice. The second biggest challenge is that male dominated environment in itself. You know we are still in North America especially 84% white males in the fire service. The challenge today is that that is the world that a woman has to navigate in. It's an unfair playing field and it's very much tilted towards men, definitely white men. So those would be the two big challenges. Finding your voice and actually working in that male dominated environment."
I don't rely on one single source for staying current on industry best practices. I keep up to date by reading newsletters, blogs, magazines and watching videos. I also take classes online and at conferences, as well as putting together my own training. This helps me stay current by delving deep into the subject and expanding my research. Transcript: "It's a question from Adam regarding what are my go-to resources for staying current on industry best practices. I don't have one go-to. I think that if you only rely on one source or one area even that that severely limits you and so I just try to keep my head on a swivel the same way we teach when you're actually out there working in the street as a firefighter or as a first responder. I am constantly reading newsletters, blog posts, taking training. Sometimes it's training specific to operations, sometimes it's some of those softer skills, conferences and other places that I can socialize professionally, taking classes online, taking classes at those conferences, reading magazine articles and even when I'm putting together training myself it forces me like I really like I did recently where I'm putting together a class on search and rescue it forced me to delve in very deep into the subject and that has me opening up books and magazines and and watching videos. I don't have one go-to and I think that's that's maybe how I stay current is is by being very expansive in my in my research."
The education needed to become a first responder varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, but generally requires at least a high school diploma. Once you become a first responder, it is important to stay on top of the latest developments and techniques by constantly learning and self-educating. Transcript: "What kind of education do you need to be a first responder? Well, there's two answers to that. I could not speak to police, but I can speak to EMS and fire. There are some basic levels that you need to reach to even just apply. And those levels of education vary from district to district, jurisdiction to jurisdiction. One city can say, look, you just need a high school education. The one right next to it could say you have to have a university education and a whole list of firefighter or EMS-related certifications. That's just to get in. So it changes from town to town. Once you do become a first responder, you constantly need to stay on top of things. The first response arena is incredibly dynamic. Auto extrication, cars change. Buildings have changed. What we have inside of our homes and how they burn have changed. Constantly making advances in emergency medicine. Very dynamic arena, so you've constantly got to keep the education up. You don't get it one time, get the job, and then leave it. I also like self-educating through books. There is a saying out there that leaders are readers. I firmly believe that. So keep learning. I hope to be taking a course on my last day in the fire service. Thanks."