Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS

Test of Courage



Broadcast Schedule


Facilitator's Guide

Facilitator's Guide


About the Guide

* Classroom Activities

* Resources

* Credits and Thanks


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.

Before Viewing

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?

During Viewing

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.

  • 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?

After Viewing

Ask these questions at the end of TEST OF COURAGE to encourage analysis and discussion:

  • 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?

Additional Questions for Group Discussions


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's just not. But now I feel like I'm on the other side of the coin, because I m not a woman.

-Terry Sanders

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?


Home | Story | Life of a Firefighter | Diversity | Filmmakers | Talkback | Resources | ITVS