TEST OF COURAGE: THE MAKING OF A FIREFIGHTER - FACILITATOR'S GUIDE
The test of courage comes when we are in the minority; the test of tolerance
comes when we are in the majority.
ABOUT THE PROGRAM
- 17th century theologian Ralph W. Sockman
TEST OF COURAGE: THE MAKING OF A FIREFIGHTER offers an insider's look at the trials and triumphs of a group of young men and women competing to become firefighters. Filmed over the course of three years in Oakland, California - one of the most culturally diverse cities in America - the program follows a cast of aspiring firefighters, men and women from different ethnic backgrounds, who are competing against 5,000 applicants for only 50 jobs. The program takes us inside the lives and close to the hearts of these applicants, showing us the grueling training and preparation they go through as the applicant pool gets continually narrowed down through elimination tests of physical agility, intellectual preparedness, and a subjective oral interview that goes a long way to determining if the candidate has "the right stuff" for the job.
TEST OF COURAGE takes place in a context of concern about ethnic and gender diversity in the workplace, both in the Oakland Fire Department and throughout the workplaces of America. In the America of today, the face of the workforce is rapidly changing. According to the National MultiCultural Institute, during the 1990's people of color, women and immigrants accounted for 85% of the net growth in the nation's labor force.
A theme often visible in TEST OF COURAGE is this issue of cultural and gender diversity. The film asks us to consider what role diversity does (and should) play in the selection of candidates, and what role diversity plays in the integration of new recruits into the ranks and culture of a fire department which prides itself on camaraderie, merit and courage. For the new generation of Oakland firefighters, we see how one of the most profound tests of their courage will come when the new ideals of diversity are tested in the daily reality of firehouse life and that moment of ultimate truth and trust when they have to put their lives in each others' hands.
THE OAKLAND STORY
While Oakland, CA was among the first fire departments in the nation to hire African American firefighters in the 1920's, by 1973 the city was being charged with discriminatory hiring practices against black candidates. In 1990 a Federal judge mandated the Oakland Fire Services Agency (OFSA) to increase its roster of minority and female firefighters. A number of separate lawsuits were filed in response, alleging reverse discrimination.
Although the consent decree was no longer in effect in 1996, when Oakland needed more firefighters the OFSA expanded recruitment outreach to women and minority candidates and sponsored preparatory courses for the written, physical and oral interviews.
In an unexpected twist, after OFSA issued its call Californians passed Proposition 209, ending race/gender-based hiring practices statewide. OFSA nevertheless remained determined to meet its diversity goals. However, the candidates were understandably confused about how race and gender would affect hiring decisions. Of the 491 professional firefighters working in Oakland today, 13% are women and 56% people of color.
THE FIRE SERVICE
- As of 2000, women make up 47% of the U.S. labor force. Approximately 5,200 women work as full-time career firefighters and officers, representing just over 2% of the total.
- In 1998, there were 27,000 African-American and 9,000 Hispanic career firefighters, representing 11.8% and 3.9% of the total respectively.
- African American women comprise about 10% of female career firefighters and officers. Detroit now has more than 20 African-American women firefighters, including District Chief Charlene Graham, who was promoted in 1996. The District of Columbia Fire Department, which has been one of the nation's leaders in hiring Black women, employs more than fifty as firefighters and an even larger number in EMS. The Oakland Fire Department currently employs more than 15 Black women out of a total force of 491.
- In New York City, fewer than 6% of FDNY's 11,000 firefighters are men of color and women are .3% (3/10's of 1%) of the total. NYC's overall population is 30% Hispanic, 25-30% African American, 10% Asian and 51% women.
- The following urban fire departments (more than 75 career personnel) have the highest percentages of women firefighters: Madison, Wisconsin: 14.8%; Boulder, Colorado: 14%; Clay County, Florida: 13.8%; San Francisco: 11.7%; Montgomery Co., Maryland: 10.2%. However, several large urban departments have no women at all.
- The White House estimates that by 2050, the population of the United States will be approximately 53% White, 25% Hispanic, 14% Black, 8% Asian/Pacific Islander and 1% American Indian. (Sources: Oakland Fire Services Agency, Women in the Fire Service, National Fire Protection Association, National MultiCultural Institute and President's Initiative on Race)
Facilitator's Note:TEST OF COURAGE uses a real-world story to explore the complex issues of gender, race, affirmative action, cultural diversity, and workplace competition. We hope this guide will be used in classroom, community, corporate and police and fire house settings to facilitate understanding of the changing demographics of our country and to explore ways to include all Americans in a climate of fairness and prosperity. The following discussion questions can be used together with a screening of the program to facilitate a meaningful discussion of the many topics raised.
Use these questions before showing TEST OF COURAGE to guide viewers to focus on key issues that will be addressed in the program, and to help them connect the subject matter with personal goals and experiences.
- Have you observed firefighters on the job, either at a fire or an emergency call? How well did they perform, in your opinion? What role does a fire department play in a community?
- What is your view of firefighting as a profession? What are the pluses and the minuses? What kind of person would want to be a firefighter? Would you? Do you think many college educated people would be firefighters?
- What kinds of physical, intellectual, and psychological qualifications do you think are important for a firefighter? How important do you feel it is for prospective firefighters to meet established physical, intellectual, and social standards?
- Until recently, most firefighters were white males. Now a number of departments are working to achieve ethnic and gender diversity. How important do you feel it is to have a community's fire department reflect the diversity of its residents? Why?
- Have you ever had an emergency where firefighters were helping you? Did you feel that your own and the firefighters' race and gender made a difference in how you were treated?
Pause the film after each section to ask questions about the complex topics in the film.
I remember the first day, coming into the drill tower, looking on the wall. All the pictures on the wall were white males. And that was how it was then but that s no different from, you know, America in general. But the important thing is that we show signs of change.
- Greg Bell
The Oakland Fire Department announces openings for fifty new recruits and is flooded with responses from over 5,000 applicants. The application process includes a written exam, a physical agility test, and an oral interview. The applicants put their heart and soul into each phase of the application process, hoping for success.
MAKING THE GRADE
- How fair do you think the Oakland Fire Services testing process is? Why?
- Do you think cultural/racial/gender differences matter in the interviews? Elsewhere in the Oakland testing process? How?
- How did the Oakland Fire Department try to offer equal opportunity to all the applicants?
- Which candidates did you think would make it to the academy? Who could you relate to? Who were you rooting for? Why?
- Chandra Holiday says she thinks that she was eliminated because of her height and gender. Do you think those kinds of factors are valid in selecting qualified candidates? Did you notice any instance where ethnic or gender bias discriminated against a candidate?
- What are some of the candidates' opinions about the racial and gender aspects of the application process? Do you agree with any of these opinions? Which ones?
- Have you ever had to compete against a large group of people for a job, position, or office? How did it feel to succeed? To lose?
- Have you ever pursued an opportunity where you felt you had an immediate advantage or disadvantage? What was that based on?
There is a lot of talk about valuing diversity. ...All that is positive stuff, however when we get to the fire line, I want people who know exactly what is expected and fall into lockstep.
- Captain Mark Hoffmann
The applicant pool has been narrowed down to twenty-eight students who enter the training academy. The firefighters-in- training learn to perform under pressure, meet the physical demands of the job, and work as a team, despite differences in gender, background, and interests.
- Do you think the candidates will make good firefighters? Why or why not?
- Was there anything that stood out about the applicants who were chosen? If so, what was it?
- Were you surprised that a woman graduated at the top of the class? Why or why not?
- Not all of the characters succeeded in becoming firefighters. Did anyone succeed that you didn't expect to? Did anyone you expected to succeed not make the grade?
I see people migrating towards others they re familiar with...I think the hurdle is to just walk out of your own comfortable group and mix, and get to know who other people are.
- Tina Moore
The rookie firefighters face the stresses and challenges of real life calls: medical emergencies, drive-by shootings, fires. They also learn how to cope with the hazing and practical joking that occur at every station house.
- Were you surprised to see that the recruits tended to socialize with people of similar background? Why or why not?
- How do the rookie firefighters attempt to 'belong' in the firefighting culture? Do you think they are all accepted? If not, who do you think isn't and why?
- Do you think any of the informal hazing that takes place in the firehouse is inappropriate? Why or why not? Does it have the potential or the intention to exclude women? Minorities?
- How do female firefighters appear to be treated in the firehouse? Are they uncomfortable? Would you be?
- In which cases was being a woman or minority helpful to the success of a call handled by the firefighters?
- How did the firefighters show through their actions that they valued teamwork and trust?
- Do you think firefighters' efforts to work as a team are typical of the American workforce? What do people in other jobs have to learn from firefighters?
Ask these questions at the end of TEST OF COURAGE to encourage analysis and discussion:
Additional Questions for Group Discussions
- What dangers and stresses do firefighters have to cope with on a regular basis?
- Has your perception of what makes a good firefighter changed after viewing TEST OF COURAGE? Why or why not?
- Do you think firefighting will remain a white-male dominated profession? Why or why not?
- How can firefighters be role models for young people in your community?
It was affirmative action that got me into college. And we still live in a society that s not on an even playing field for women, for minorities...it s just not. But now I feel like I m on the other side of the coin, because I m not a woman.
In 1961, President John F. Kennedy became the first President to use the phrase "affirmative action" when he issued Executive Order 10952. The order created the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and directed contractors on projects financed with federal funds to "take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed, and employees are treated during their employment, without regard to race, creed, color or national origin."
- The film refers several times to Affirmative Action. What is your attitude towards this policy? Do you think it works for or against you? What wrongs was it designed to right? Do you feel it has done so? Who are its supporters? Who are its opponents?
- When the Federal judge ordered the Oakland Fire Department to increase its roster of minorities and women firefighters, white firefighters argued that the judge's order was a form of reverse discrimination, discriminating against those who weren't women or minorities. In TEST OF COURAGE, both Terry Sanders and Brendan Dunham say they feel like they're at a disadvantage because of their race and/or gender. What do you think about this issue? Do you think both sides might have a valid argument?
- What should government's role be in creating a fair playing field for Americans of diverse backgrounds?
- Is your school, neighborhood, and/or workplace culturally diverse? Was it always? How has your experience of diversity or lack of it helped or hindered your understanding of your community as a whole? What obstacles have you personally had to overcome to adjust to the changing face of America?
- Have you ever discriminated against another group or gender and realized it later? Have you ever been the victim of ethnic or gender discrimination? What did you do about it?
- What can be done to help prepare people to get along in a continually evolving, culturally diverse society? What is being done in your community, school or workplace?
- When you're considering jobs or careers, does it make a difference that there are people in that profession who share your ethnicity, gender, etc.?
- Can we increase diversity without discriminating against those who are not women or minorities?
To have students explore issues presented in TEST OF COURAGE in greater depth, you may want to assign one or more of these cross-curricular projects. Students may work individually or collectively.
One of the firefighters expresses his belief that affirmative action is a positive thing, when used the way it was intended. How was it intended to be used? How has it been used? Do some research into the history and practice of this controversial topic.
- When and why was the concept of affirmative action created? Have its policies been beneficial?
- Is there a government policy on affirmative action, or is it up to individual companies and organizations?
- What are some businesses or organizations in your area that have affirmative action policies? What do these policies say?
- How do people in your community feel about affirmative action policies? Take a survey of people's ideas on what affirmative action is and how they feel about it.
After viewing TEST OF COURAGE, you should have a good idea of how the Oakland Fire Department works. What about the firefighting organization in your community? Who are the people who fight the fires? Are the crews in your fire department representative of the surrounding community? Visit your local fire station and interview some firefighters. You might ask some of these questions.
- What made you decide to be a firefighter?
- What was the training like? What kinds of tests did you have to pass?
- In this profession, what kinds of dangers do you face? Stresses?
- Are there many women or minority groups in this department? What efforts have been made to bring qualified female and minority applicants into the organization? You can write up the interview as a feature article for the school or local newspaper, or work with other students to create an exhibit based on several interviews.
HIGH PRESSURE JOBS
Firefighting is one of the most dangerous and physically and emotionally demanding jobs in today's world, yet few firefighters choose to leave it for another type of work. What are its rewards? Why do so many people continue to dream of becoming firefighters? Do some research to find answers.
- Survey friends and community members to find out why they think people might want to be firefighters despite all the danger and stress.
- Visit your local fire department. Ask firefighters what the benefits and hardships of their job are.
- Find out what some other jobs are that have similar demands and rewards, and interview people in these professions. (Among the individuals you might talk with are police officers, paramedics, and emergency room physicians.)
- Analyze your results to see what qualities people are looking for in their professions. What makes having a dangerous or stressful job worthwhile?
- What would be important to you in a job? Write a personal statement about what aspects of a job would be most important to you, and what kind of career you might want to pursue.
Building a House for Diversity: A Fable about a Giraffe & an Elephant Offers New Strategies for Today's Workforce by R. Roosevelt Thomas, Jr. (Amacom, 1999)
Catching Fire: The Story of Firefighting by Gena K. Gorrell (Ages 9-12). (Tundra Books, 1999)
Diversity Consciousness: Opening Our Minds to People, Cultures and Opportunities by Richard D. Bucher (Prentice Hall, 1999)
Fighting Fire by Caroline Paul (St. Martins Press, 1998)
The Fire Inside: Firefighters Talk About Their Lives by Steve Delsohn (HarperCollins, 1996)
Many Faces, One Purpose: A Manager's Handbook on Women in Firerfighting Women in the Fire Service for United States Fire Administration. (http://www.usfa.fema.gov/usfapubs/)
Pathways to One America in the 21st Century: Promising Practices for Racial Reconciliation. One America: President's Initiative on Race. (www.whitehouse.gov/Initiatives/OneAmerica/america.html)
Race : How Blacks and Whites Think and Feel About the American Obsession by Studs Terkel. (Anchor/Doubleday, 1993)
Race & Rhetoric: The True State of Race and Gender Relations in Corporate America by John P. Fernandez and Jules Davis (McGraw-Hill, 1998)
Real Heat: Gender and Race in the Urban Fire Service by Carol Chetkovich (Rutgers, 1997)
Voices of Diversity: Real People Talk About Problems and Solutions in a Workplace Where Everyone is Not Alike by Renee Blank and Sandra Slipp. (Amacom, 1994)
The Fight in the Fields: César Chávez and the Farmworkers' Struggle, about the first successful union for farmworkers and its charismatic leader. Paradigm Productions, 510/883-9814.
Livelyhood, a PBS series about the changing American workplace, hosted by Will Durst. The Working Group, 510/268-WORK.
Making Peace, people working neighbor-to-neighbor for positive community change. Films for the Humanities, 800/257-5126.
Struggles in Steel: A Story of African American Steelworkers, an examination of the 100-year struggle for equal rights in the mills. California Newsreel, 800/621-6196.
A comprehensive news and resource site for the fire professional.
A comprehensive news and informational focusing on the impact of diversity on the business world.
The Fire and EMS Information Network
The most complete collection of fire and EMS links on the web.
International Association of Black Professional Fire Fighters
National membership organization which promotes interracial progress throughout the Fire Service, encourages the recruitment and advancement of black firefighters, and collects and evaluates data on discrimination and implements corrective action.
International Association of Fire Fighters
Union representing over 230,000 professional firefighters and EMS personnel.
National Association of Gender Diversity Training
Supports and promotes programs, publications and training to assist businesses and individuals in creating a workplace culture of understanding, respect and inclusiveness for all men and women.
National Association of Hispanic Firefighters
National membership organization of 20,000 Hispanic professional and volunteer firefighters.
National Fire Protection Association
An international membership organization founded in 1896 to provide education and advocacy on fire safety and protection.
National MultiCultural Institute
Provides training and consulting services, publications and videos about diversity.
A national education project dedicated to helping teachers foster equity, respect and understanding in the classroom and beyond. Teaching Tolerance, created by the Southern Poverty Law Center, provides classroom resources, activities, recommended reading, videos and Teaching Tolerancemagazine.
U.S. Department of Labor, Women's Bureau
Statistics about and information for working women.
Women in the Fire Service, Inc.
A membership organization providing networking and advocacy for fire service women, and resources and information for the fire service as a whole. WIFS publishes information, holds conferences, and provides guidance towards the goal of a harmoniously diverse fire service.
CREDITS AND THANKS
TEST OF COURAGE: THE MAKING OF A FIREFIGHTER was produced by Kyung Sun Yu and Gary Mercer for The Working Group, in association with the Independent Television Service, with funding provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. ITVS was created by Congress to "increase the diversity of programs available to public television, and to serve underserved audiences, in particular minorities and children."
For more information about ITVS or to obtain additional copies of this guide, contact us at 51 Federal Street, First Floor, San Francisco CA 94107; tel (415) 356-8383; fax (415) 356-8391; firstname.lastname@example.org. Material from this guide is available on the ITVS website, www.itvs.org.
Very special thanks:
Straight Line Editorial Development, Inc.
Susi Walsh, ITVS Community Connections Project
Brenda Berkman, New York City Fire Department
George Burke, International Association of Fire Fighters
Carol Chetkovich, Harvard University
Richard Logan, International Association of Black Professional Fire Fighters
Fred Simon, Center for Independent Documentary