It’s been a lifelong dream for Texoma resident Brandon Prough to get on with the Sherman Fire Rescue team. His dad was a firefighter for the city of Durant, Oklahoma for over 30 years, and soon Prough’s dream will becoming a reality.
Like so many other firefighters chasing the dream, it wasn’t an easy road to get to put on that uniform and go out into the community as a public servant.
Prough’s journey to becoming a firefighter has been a challenging process. When he is not performing his duties as a Sherman firefighter he serves as an instructor at a local fire academy and a volunteer for the Whitesboro Volunteer Fire Department.
“I pretty much eat, breath and sleep it,” Prough said. “This is pretty much my life, it’s what I have done since I was a little kid.”
The process for Sherman and Denison firefighters is pretty much the same. At both departments, recruits are required to pass a physical agility exam and written test. Once they have made it through that, then there is an interview process, which is pretty extensive. Beyond that, the individual must pass a background check.
To be thorough and making the process well rounded, applicants much pass a test that Prough said is similar to a polygraph test. Then there are psychiatric evaluations and more background checks. And, once all of that is complete, the fire candidate will meet with the fire chief who has the final say on who will join his or her team.
He said one of the first things he tells cadets who go to the academy is not how tough it is getting through the certification process, the hard part is actually getting a job. There are a number of challenges to get there.
Making the team
“It is a pretty drawn out process,” Prough said. “I tested in June (2018) and didn’t get the conditional job offer until November. It is a pretty extensive time frame. Some departments are a little faster. Some take longer. It just depends on how many openings they have and what process they use.”
Prough went right into firefighting at 19, and said he has been trying to get on with Sherman for a long time.
“You know it means everything to me,” he said. “You get the same old song and dance people say, ‘I want to help people’ or ‘I want to put my life on the line for people.’ It’s not really about that. It’s about doing a job you are passionate about that you are in love with. They say if you love your job you will never work a day in your life.”
For Prough, he said it feels like you are with a huge family.
“The rewarding part is when you have people in the community than you for saving their family member or tell you saved their home or something valuable to them,” he said. “It’s when the little kids tug on your coat and say, ‘Hey, I want to be like you when I grow up.’ Things like that.”
Prough said students who are looking to get into the career need to be mindful of the things they are doing in high school. He said sure kids will have fun but to not take it too far. He said don’t do anything illegal or dangerous. He said doing well in school is also important.
Steven Hollingsworth and Laighton Privette are the two newest recruits for Denison Fire Rescue. The two men are coming into the department at a time when staff numbers are low. The department has begun the process of fast tracking the hiring of new hires to fill a number of vacancies.
“I was looking to serve the community — to make it a better place,” Hollingsworth said. “It is an honor. There are plenty of people out there that need our help. Every call you have the chance to help somebody, to make their day better. It is always good to see a smile.”
Hollingsworth, now 27, said he has been trying to get on with a department for a long time and getting to this point is very rewarding as it has been a lifetime goal of his.
“You are going to be here days in and days out,” he said. “Keep your head up and learn as much as you can. You will be working with some awesome people, they will teach you everything you need to know.”
Privette said when a candidate is starting out to not be afraid to ask questions because there are not any stupid questions.
From the chiefs
While asking questions is the first step, becoming a veteran in the department is all about on the job training, learning to adapt, and becoming more efficient.
Things have changed a lot in the more than 30 years since Sherman Fire Rescue Chief Danny Jones first came into the business.
The technology used to fight fires as well as the way departments functions is always changing. He said furniture and appliances today burn hotter and faster than in previous decades which gives the firefighters less time to respond to an emergency. That has led to the increased need for training and a strong emphasis on the mental evaluations.
Jones said a firefighter has to deal with intense stress and has to be able to think quickly.
During the interview process, Jones said he sits each candidate down and has a hard conversation about the job. He tells them to have a conversation with their significant other about the long hours because fire rescue staff could be away from their families for 24 to 48 hours or more at a time.
They will miss birthdays, anniversaries, and baseball games. Making sure each applicant understands what they are getting into is a big task, and the mental fortitude to become a firefighter is a key element, Jones said.
Candidates understand they are not just taking a job, they are going to be public servants. They will represent the department as well as the city of Sherman and its residents, Jones further explained the responsibility of the men and women on his staff and a part of departments throughout the county.
The most important qualities Jones seeks are integrity, loyalty and honesty, and if a candidate is honest about his or her background, he can work around it. But a lie it is an automatic disqualification. Trust in each fellow team member is crucial to ensure the firefighters are capable of doing the job because firefighters are often dealing with people on their worst day. It is the work of the public servant that can turn it around for them, Jones said.
Each candidate is interviewed by seven people who grill them on everything, and the questions are standard but fair. Also, there is room for follow up questions. Each individual panelist grades the applicant separately, and the firefighter has to achieve a minimum score to receive a recommendation. Jones said the panel’s scores are weighted to ensure a candidate doesn’t get thrown out because of one or two people.
Denison and Sherman have a paramedic-preferred program meaning if a candidate or applicant is already a paramedic they will be placed at the top of the list, regardless of their test scores due to the need for paramedics as well as the high cost of sending an EMT to paramedic school. Jones said the candidates are still vetted and might not have been the top of the class but are still fully qualified. The department schedules a test at least once a year but due to circumstances, can schedule a second test if needed.
Sherman firefighters are evaluated at 30 days, 90 days then 180 days before their final evaluation the last week of their first year. From then on, evaluations are annually.
Sherman has 86 total staff including administration. Those individuals are spread out between the city’s five stations.
Denison Fire Rescue Chief Gregg Loyd said one thing that has changed recently due to the staffing shortages is the department is working with Grayson College to provide an accelerated paramedic course to bring firefighters into Denison faster.
Loyd said everything after the written test — which is the only part the candidates are ranked on — is pass-fail. He said at that point the department is testing endurance and physical capabilities as well as mental fortitude. Once a firefighter is on staff they have to complete paramedic school before they are counted as full staff.
Until that time, they are counted as half staff, and typically the candidate would work part time with the department and go to school part time for a year, Loyd said. Because of the need to bring firefighters on quickly, the department is offering a condensed course where the candidate will do paramedic school full time allowing them to complete it in six months instead of a full year. That will get them hired on to full-time status six months sooner.
Candidates with a military background tend to do well, Loyd said.
That is because, like the police, fire departments are structured as paramilitary units.
Though the process may be long and steady, are constantly getting recruits with Denison having received several within the last month.
“It is an amazing job,” Prough said.” I will tell you hands down it’s the best job in the world. There is no better job than this.”