Conn. fire dept. expands eligibility, offers scholarship for recruits
The Bridgeport Fire Department is hoping to attract a diverse crew to become the newest of the city’s bravest
By Tara O'Neill
BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — Lt. Necole Dundy Pittman said her 11 years with the Bridgeport Fire Department is proof that it’s not “a man’s job.”
Firefighter Mohammad Kahn said his bigger stature is proof that you don’t have to be thin and muscular.
Being a firefighter, they both said, is mostly about endurance.
“If you think you can’t do it, come train with me,” Dundy Pittman said. “If I can do it, other young women can do it, too.”
Bridgeport is looking for new firefighters and is hoping to attract a diverse crew to become the newest of the city’s bravest.
Fire Chief Richard Thode said 3.5 percent of the Bridgeport Fire Department is made up of women. Although that percentage matches the national average, Thode said he wants to see more women join the department.
Kahn said his time training to become a firefighter helped build up his endurance and prove that anyone ready to commit to the job could do it.
“People see me walk in and they say, ‘he’s a firefighter?’” Kahn said. “But I’m doing the same thing all the other firefighters do. When the bell rings, I’m going to do my job.”
Dundy Pittman and Kahn are two of the six people on the department’s recruitment team. Thode said recruitment happens twice yearly - in February and August.
They’re both available to help people looking to train for CPAT, the candidate physical ability test, required to become a firefighter.
In an effort to help those worried about the $175 cost of CPAT, the city announced a scholarship program recently that will cover the cost of the test for 150 applicants.
The scholarships are available on a first-come, first-served basis.
Scholarships will be aided toward applicants who are city residents who meet the financial need requirement, participate in community service and attend at least four of the free one-hour CPAT training sessions at 236 Evergreen St.
The training sessions familiarize applicants with what they’ll face during their CPAT, Dundy Pittman said.
“They’re getting to touch everything, learn everything,” she said. “And this way, when they do take the test, nothing is foreign to them.”
The scholarship application form can be found at https://bit.ly/2TEzcGo.
After the CPAT and application process comes 14 weeks of training, which means on-campus living Monday through Friday in Windsor Locks, Kahn said.
“You’ll get in the best shape of your life,” Kahn said. “You learn basic firefighting functions and a lot of other skills, including handling emergency medical response.”
Typically, anyone with a criminal record would steer away from firefighting positions, Dundy Pittman said. But a few years ago, Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim introduced a second chance opportunity for firefighters in the city.
Dundy Pittman said once interested recruits apply, a peer-review committee will review the application. The committee will decide if that applicant’s background can be forgiven to allow them to continue with the process, Thode said.
Deputy Chief Lance Edwards, a part of the peer-review committee, said the applicant will be brought in for an interview to discuss their record and explain their side of the story.
“If you’re accepted and you join the department, you’d be on probation for one year,” Edwards said.
The chief said he hopes the second chance opportunity will open up a door for many who wanted to join the fire department but didn’t realize it was an option.
“It’s a great career for everybody,” Thode said.
“If you don’t apply, you’ll never know,” Dundy Pittman added.
This February’s recruitment push is in the hopes of reaching more people that might typically shy away from the position for various reasons.
“We want a fire department that reflects the community,” Thode said.
The department has roughly 300 firefighters currently working. But, Thode said, come April, there will be about 70 firefighters eligible for retirement. He said the department wants to have a list of people ready to fill those spots.
The active hiring list will be filled by the recruits who will have passed the application and training process after the February recruitment drive, the chief said.
“We can’t wait until we need the positions filled any more,” Thode said.
Firefighters have to be ready for more than just the big fires, Thode said; calls throughout any given day includes community-related jobs from unlocking cars to installing smoke detectors.
Thode said the job, from a financial and career standpoint, is a good one.
“It’s a union job,” he said. “It’s good paying, there’s the opportunity for promotions and moving up.”
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