By New Times Staff
By Stephen Lemons
By Stephen Lemons
By Monica Alonzo
By Ray Stern
By New Times Staff
By Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
Compton says, "These people don't have the guts to come forward, give their name, state their grievance and process it through the system. There's absolutely no reason why you wouldn't do that through the Phoenix Fire Department system.
"It's the same small group of people who do the calling every time."
@body:Alan Brunacini knows what the problem is, and the problem is not Candi Brunacini or creeping nepotism. The problem is that times are changing, and the old guard can't keep up. In 1980, the force was all male. Now there are 37 women on the force. Representation of minorities far exceeds the ethnicity of the community.
"The white-male view from inside is, we've never hired a capable female," Brunacini says flatly.
The fire department's brain trust says it is looking for a new breed. The firefighter of the 90s must be much more than a hulking specimen capable of scurrying up ladders, busting down doors, pulling hose and rescuing people from burning buildings.
In fact, only 12 percent of the department's 106,000 calls last year involved fires. Nearly 80 percent were for medical emergencies--heart attacks, car wrecks, drownings. Such calls require technical expertise, but they also require patience, tolerance and compassion.
The department's mission is changing, Brunacini notes. Last year, the department instituted the Total Quality Service Process, which basically means that firefighters are expected to consider citizens "customers" and treat them as such.
In essence, the department is looking for social workers who can put out fires.
This new outlook became evident years ago, when the department began revising its agility test. Candidates used to jump over walls, do pull-ups, scale the undersides of ladders--all activities requiring brute, upper-body strength. They are also tasks that women had difficulty completing, and which had little or nothing to do with the work of a firefighter. Today, the obstacle course consists of events specific to firefighting: pulling hose, raising a ladder, turning on a hydrant, wielding an ax and so on.
Old-timers insist the new agility test has gone soft. Compton says the few old-timers who have taken the agility test say it's not only more relevant, it's more difficult.
"It's not easier, it's just different," Compton says.
Another change is that the department has hired an industrial psychologist to help identify and retain caring, service-oriented candidates by revising the entrance and promotional tests. One question on the new oral exam asks, "Tell us how you have displayed being 'open-minded' in your life."
Van Summers, a training officer at the firefighting academy, explains, "We select out [reject] people who are selfish and egotistical. . . . We are looking for people with a lot better people skills. In the past, we looked for a certain stereotype that had to do with people putting out fires. Today, we have to provide the community with other dimensions.
"Something we have got to come to grips with is that our society is not dealing very well with people who are in trouble. A lot of the calls we go on today are not true emergencies, but the people who call us are in some kind of trouble. The fire department is filling this service void."
It's not difficult to see why some old-school firefighters are squirming. Newcomers to the force bring an idealistic zeal that grates on jaded veterans.
"Brunacini is more interested in his friggin' humanitarian awards than getting qualified people in the department," one firefighter complains. Another wonders whether Birkenstock sandals could be far in his future.
Summers shakes his head and laments, "There's a prejudice against women. There's a prejudice against people who care, people who love other people. There are still people on the force who look upon that as a weakness."
@body:Candi Brunacini never expected to become a poster girl for the New Age Firefighter. Thanks to her name, her timing, her circumstances and her nameless detractors, she appears to be just that.
On this day, she is exhausted and exhilarated. She's literally had a trial by fire.
It's 8 a.m., and she has just completed her first 24-hour shift at a Phoenix fire station. She's not yet halfway through her 18-week academy training, but for the next three weeks, she and the other recruits will work alongside veterans, getting a taste of their future workplace.
During her first shift, her crew responded to a one-alarm fire in a two-story building. She says that as the fire truck approached, "I looked out the window and the whole street was full of smoke, and I thought, 'Dear God, this is a real fire!'"
There was a business on the ground floor, a residence on the second. She and her crew went into the burning building, where she was impressed by the cohesion of her crew and the poignancy of children's toys amid all the smoke and water and mayhem.
Afterward, firefighters who have ten years under their belts told her they had never worked a fire in which they had been able to apply such a full complement of their fire training.
Candi Brunacini is a 30-year-old mother of two who divorced a domineering husband and left him on a Colorado sheep ranch. Now she's determined to make it in the family business.
Find everything you're looking for in your city
Find the best happy hour deals in your city
Get today's exclusive deals at savings of anywhere from 50-90%
Check out the hottest list of places and things to do around your city