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By Angie Wieck, Published April 08 2012

It's My Job: Fargo firefighter experiences close calls on the job

FARGO – Only members of the clergy have a higher degree of job satisfaction than firefighters, according to a recent study conducted by the National Organiza-tion for Research at the University of Chicago.

Jamie Garvey, a seven-year veteran of the Fargo Fire Department, agrees with the study, which is good considering firefighters can expect to spend one-third of their lives on the job because of their long hours.

Garvey recently talked about what it takes to become a firefighter and about the risks and rewards of the job.

Q. What made you decide to become a firefighter?

A. I was a social work major in college. I worked in the Cass County Jail as an outdoor recreation guy during the summers. During school, I worked at a domestic abuse shelter and a children’s abuse shelter in Sioux Falls. I was really seeing both sides of issues. … I realized that the closer I could get to the problem, the more rewarding I felt the work was. …

Also, at that time, being able to physically solve problems attracted me. I was coming from a wrestling background. I liked being able to use my years of development that way, too. I do still feel like a social worker because I’m getting to do one-on-one work, but I’m also physically solving problems.

Is there any firefighting schooling that you must complete, or do you generally get training after you’re hired?

Either one. There is tech school where you can go and get Firefighter 1 and 2, which is a technical degree in firefighting. The thing that I tell high school kids who ask me about being a firefighter, my recommendation is that there are more people going to those schools than are getting jobs. … I recommend getting a degree in something else that they can be doing while they’re looking for a (firefighting) job.

Can you take me through the hiring process?

There is a physical agility test and a written exam. If you pass both, you get an interview. After the interview, you become part of the hiring pool. It’s just a group of people eligible to be hired if an opening becomes available. … When they’re looking at hiring you, the things you’re going to have to pass are a financial background check, a polygraph test and a criminal background check.

What are they trying to find out through the polygraph test?

If you’re lying. … They are looking for what you haven’t been caught doing. The background check only tells what you’ve been caught doing. … They just want to know who you are.

Have you ever had any close calls on the job?

My biggest close calls have been electrical and vehicle-related. I’ve been climbing on a ladder in dense smoke. Once things cleared, I realized I was climbing next to some high voltage (wires). It could have been an issue if I had put the ladder up against it or brushed into it.

The other is at car accidents. It’s dangerous when it’s slippery out there, especially when you’re out on the interstate. We park the truck sideways so if traffic does come, it will hit the truck first and will protect where we’re standing. People really fly by you sometimes. …

We have a very high priority of not being in close-call situations. The only time it’s ever acceptable to be anywhere near a close-call situation is when you think that you have a life that you can save. We will not risk our lives over an empty building.

What do you like best about your job?

I like the calls. I like being asked to help at really desperate times. … It’s kind of the best and the worst part, but it gives it real meaning.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Angie Wieck at (701) 241-5501