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Belleville fire department looking for the “Cream of the Crop”

By: Sam Normand

Jesse Brant has wanted to be a firefighter for years. She may soon get her chance.

She’s one of only 88 left in the Belleville Fire Department’s candidate fitness testing. That’s down from 800 at the beginning. The candidates are put through a grueling four-hour process, testing everything from typing skills to teamwork.

The candidate fitness testing is being held this week at the Yardmen Arena. The process is used to create a hiring pool for the fire department for the next two years. Those who make the grade receive priority for hiring should a position open up.

Brant said that she’s excited to be one of the last 100 still in the race.

“It feels really good. I was really surprised when I got the invite after writing the aptitude test,” said Brant. “I definitely knew that I had to work for it to get into the fit test after the aptitude. It doesn’t get easier after the written test.”

Brant has been a part of the Six Nations volunteer firefighters for the past seven years. She said that becoming a professional firefighter isn’t easy. A limited number of openings creates a high-competitive market for trainees.

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(11/27/2012) Jason Lim and Paul King go through the “Rescue Maze” test. The competitors must follow a rope on the ground while blind; using teamwork to navigate obstacles. Photo by Sam Normand.

Mark MacDonald, deputy fire chief of operations for the Belleville Fire Department said they’re not aiming for a specific number of candidates for the hiring pool. But testing ensures that only the best remain.

“That’s our whole objective here between the original application and the written test,” said MacDonald. “Then we get to the physical fitness test and into the interview, and what we end up with is the cream of the crop, and that’s what we’re here for and that’s what we want for our fire service.”

During the physical fitness test, candidates must use a sledgehammer to strike a 160-pound metal beam five feet, drag a 190-pound dummy to simulate a rescue, and run a kilometer in under five and a half minutes.

And this is all in the first few hours.

Fear of heights and claustrophobia, situations which firefighters deal with regularly, are tested as well.

“It was tough, very hard. One of the hardest things I’ve done today,” said Brant. “I can only do so much to prepare for these fit tests. All this testing we’ve done today, which is a lot, you definitely see what your strengths are. I’m really noticing that I did really well with the swimming and running. It’s really the weight things that are really tough. The firefighter fit stuff.”

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(11/27/2012) Jesse Brant is pulled out of the “Tube”. The simple test is designed to gauge the competitors performance in tightly enclosed areas; moving inch by inch using only their fingers and toes. Photo by Sam Normand.

MacDonald said that by doing a fitness test every two years, candidates are given first consideration should a position open up.

“It wouldn’t be fair if every time we had an opening we ran a competition. It’s a very complex process; it has a lot of logistics involved. This is a way of rewarding the candidates that have done well, then they know they have a position on the list for two years. And that’s very common for the fire service in Ontario.”

He said that the process also lets them get to know the candidates, as well as gauge how they work as a team.

 

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