The African-American firefighters association introduces people to the physical requirements of the job.
By Jason Lewis
Working in the Los Angeles Fire Department is a noble calling. It is a profession that is highly respected in the community because firefighters save lives.
This profession has great benefits. The salary for a firefighter in the Los Angeles Fire Department ranges from $60,552 to $88,426, and firefighters can earn six-figure salaries if they work enough overtime.
The financial benefits also include medical, dental, and vision insurance. The schedule is also a perk.
“On average, we’ll work nine to 10 days out of the month,” said Gerard Jordan of the Stentorians, which is the association of African Americans in the fire service. “There is a 24 hour rotating schedule. You will have the opportunity to have approximately 20 to 21 days off during the month. You are able to sign up for overtime as well.”
The Stentorians was founded in 1954 to bring together African-American firefighters and to address the discrimination and segregation challenges in the city’s fire department.
“I would not be here today, being able to put on that badge every time I go to work, if it wasn’t for the blood, sweat and tears of those who came before me,” Jordan said. “There were individuals during the days before civil rights, who had to endure so much hardship, trials, tribulations, turmoil, inequality, unfairness, that I will never have to assume in my life. I have to tip my cap and do what I can, not to have their efforts go in vain.”
The Stentorians’ headquarters is located on the corner of Vernon Avenue and Normandie Avenue, and they have created programs to attract community members to the Los Angeles City and Los Angeles County Fire Departments. One program in particular is the Intro to LAFD, which is a free class that gives people who are interested in the fire department a feel for the physical demands of the job. This program also gives people who are already in the application process to become a firefighter additional training to enhance their chances of passing the physical exams.
“One aspect of the department over the years is that they want to have the department reflect the community’s demographics,” Jordan said. “We all know that people in economically depressed areas of South L.A. do not have the financial resources or the opportunity to send themselves to a private fire academy, or send themselves to higher education after high school. The program that we have at the Stentorian center provides individuals with the opportunity to come in and train with this equipment, basically cost free.”
This course is designed for candidates in the hiring process, and for people who have expressed interest in joining the fire department, to become familiarized with the tools and equipment, policy procedures, and standard operating guidelines. This program prepares a candidate to master the drill tower, which is a training structure that is used to help firefighters deal with real-life situations, including running upstairs with heavy equipment, using rope and safety nets, and operating fire equipment in a confined space.
This free course is held twice a month, and it mimics the physical demands of being a firefighter.
“We provide an opportunity for individuals to gain some experience and get an understanding of what the drill tower is all about,” Jordan said. “You’re not going to learn it in one session. It’s a program that is designed for high intensity and a high degree of aptitude. If you don’t come in with the mindset of ‘I’m going to hit the ground running, you’re already behind.’”
Serious candidates of the fire department will take the full 18-week drill tower course that the Stentorians offer. There is no prior experience necessary to take the class, and many people have participated in the program who are not in the application process.
“This is a positive learning environment,” Jordan said. “It’s a non-threatening environment as well. I tell individuals that we do not want to break anybody in half or over exert them. What we want to do is give them a real taste of what they’re getting themselves into.”
Jordan has seen people come in off of the street, sign up for one class, and then decide to go on to become a firefighter.
“We’ve had several people who started the program and they have stuck with it from start to finish,” he said. “One thing that we tell the candidates from the very beginning is that there are no guarantees. All of this falls squarely on the shoulders of the candidate in regards to their commitment, their dedication, and their desire. We can only provide the training location, the equipment, and the PPEs (personal protective equipment). It’s their duty and responsibility to basically run with it.”
The Stentorians, which is a non-profit organization that is funded by its dues-paying members, has amassed expensive, high-end equipment that can be found at private firefighting schools.
“Not a whole lot of people have turnouts (PPE, footwear, gloves, helmets), face pieces, axes, rotary saws, and chain saws at home,” Jordan said. “That’s where we come in and provide that equipment. They can try it on and get the understanding of what it feels like to not only wear the standard issue equipment, but to also work in that equipment, and perform tasks as well.
“We want to provide the community with an outlet to let them know that if you’re serious about becoming a firefighter, we have inventory items that you will find on every fire truck, in every fire station, so that you can familiarize yourself with this equipment.”
While the Stentorians’ target is the African-American population of Los Angeles, they make it clear that the program is open to everybody.
“What we try to do is really focus in on the African American demographics,” Jordan said. “We also want to emphasize that we cannot be guilty of what we accuse. It does not matter what ethnicity or gender you are, if you’re serious about understanding the fire service, the culture, the mentality, the policy procedures, the tools and equipment, the Stentorian center is a great area for people to come and learn more about the LAFD. We don’t want to exclude anybody who wants to be a part of that.”
The class attracts people from various races, and a number of women participate in the program. The participants also have a wide age range. Applicants must be at least 18 years old to join the fire department, and the class has attracted people in their 40s and 50s who are looking to become firefighters.
For more information about the Stentorians, call them at (323) 296-4690, or visit their website at www.lacostentorians.org. The can also be found on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. As a non-profit organization, they welcome donations.
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