The following responses were contributed by Nolita Proctor of the Prince George's Fire Department in response to a questionnaire circulated by The Washington Post. The material is intended to provide students with an idea of what working as a firefighter might be like, and some steps the student can take to prepare now for a career in that field.

Ms. Proctor, who is completing her first year with the fire department, is a 1982 graduate of Surrattsville High School in Prince George's County.


"When we go on call, the firefighters have different roles. My main job on call is 'outside ventilation.' {This entails tasks like} turning off the gas outside the house; opening windows and doors; and whatever else is necessary to allow the smoke to escape. If the fire is severe enough, I go in, too.

"The training you get goes on all the time. We constantly do drills to sharpen our skills and familiarize ourselves with the equipment. It's important that we work together at all times. We have ongoing drills on the use of different apparatus, like aerial ladders, hoses, ropes, pumpers, and rescue equipment. We also drill on {physical fitness}; running sprints, and doing push-ups. Upper body strength is important.

"I find it rewarding. Every day is a new challenge. It's not like a desk job. You never know what to expect. It keeps your mind and body moving."


The D.C. Fire Department offers a cadet program to District high school seniors. Participation in the program makes the participants eligible to become firefighters in the District as positions become available.

Students interested in participating must apply to the D.C. Fire Department and have the written permission of a parent. Students in the program must maintain a "C" average, be eligible for the work-study program (i.e. have enough credits to be eligible for a half-day schedule), obtain a recommendation from a school counselor, and pass the physical examination.

Once in the program, students report to their high schools for half of the day and attend the firefighter training academy for the other half.

During the second phase of the program, following graduation from high school, cadets enroll in firefighter courses at the University of the District of Columbia and begin training in the different divisions at the fire department. The cadets must then undergo a 55-day intensive training program at the fire department's academy to be eligible for hire.

Cadets earn approximately $14,000 annually during training. In 1984, according to the Occupational Outlook Handbook, the median annual income for firefighters was $19,600.


"You've got to be pretty active for this job. You can't go halfway, and you should never say you can't do something. I'm five-foot-five, 120 pounds, and people tell me all the time that they can't believe I go into burning buildings. I tell them the job is not for everybody.

Everyone has some fear. But we never go anyplace by ourselves, and safety is always the first concern, so you don't worry about the danger aspect as much. If you're scared, you shouldn't be in this; but on the other hand, if you're not a little scared you shouldn't be in it either."