My father was captain of the Berkeley Fire Department, and I decided at a young age that I wanted to become a firefighter. I graduated early from high school, and when I was 18, began taking community college courses in fire science, introduction to law enforcement, first aid, writing and basic educational classes to work toward my associate's degree. I also got my emergency medical technician (EMT) certification.
I went to the Piedmont fire department to take the required exams to become a firefighter. The rule was that you had to be 21, but I lied about my age and applied anyway. I was fortunate to pass the written exam and the physical ability test. I made it to the oral interview level and was prepared to back out, but they made me No. 42 on the list knowing that by the time they got to me I would be 21. I got hired on with the Moraga fire district at 19 as a reserve and a dispatcher then hired just before my 21st birthday by Contra Costa County Fire Protection District. I haven't looked back; I love it.
Is there a natural progression to your position now?
It's a personal choice. One route, for example, may be where an individual starts out as a firefighter, goes into fire prevention as an inspector, moves up to mid-manager or captain and then fire marshal. Some people come from private industries and go straight into inspector or fire marshal positions. We try and encourage firefighters to move into the bureau to take their experience and utilize it to the district's benefit.
What are the requirements to become a firefighter?
They must be at least 18 years old, have a general education diploma (GED) or high school diploma and have an EMT-1 or EMT-P at the time of their application. Other jurisdictions may require a firefighter 1 or firefighter 2 certification. Firefighters don't just fight fires, though; they do rescues, medical emergencies, vehicle accidents and hazardous materials incidences, too.
What was your journey to becoming fire marshal?
I began as a firefighter. Then, I blew out my knee. I underwent two surgeries. While in rehab, I began doing light duties, such as weed abatement and building owner compliance for fire safety regulations, and really focused on it. To me, fire prevention personnel are the unsung heroes of the fire service.
Eventually, I was promoted to captain, and six years ago, to the position of fire marshal. I felt my experience and passion would benefit those who came behind me, and I wanted to make a difference at every level.
My whole focus is education. Unfortunately, not all people are receptive to our fire prevention recommendations, and many of them don't think about the risks our firefighters make in fighting fires when something does go wrong.
What are your current duties?
I work 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., but I also have a tendency to work nine- and 10-hour days and an occasional weekend. I manage our fire prevention bureau, which consists of four divisions: weed abatement, which inspects public and private properties for overgrown and flammable vegetation throughout our jurisdiction; fire investigations division, which is made up of a captain and two fire investigators, and they look for the origin and cause of fires, and investigate fatalities; code enforcement division, which is responsible for annual fire protection system inspections of schools, day cares, high-rise buildings and businesses that require a permit or conducts hazardous production; and an engineering division, where they review plans of new and existing buildings and examine fire protection systems.
My responsibilities as fire marshal aren't typically as interactive with the public as a firefighter, but sometimes I do get to attend meetings and numerous public speaking assignments before local organizations such as rotary groups, chambers of commerce and homeowner associations. Also, I have been involved with the California Fire Chiefs Association and have attended national conventions on building and fire code, and was a part of the public education division of the state fire marshal's office.
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