Andy Garcia and I used to work together. He is a nerd as well (see question 3). He made the change I am attempting. Andy works with the Golder Ranch Fire District. I sent him a laundry list of questions, and he was gracious enough to let me post his replies! (Thanks Andy!)
1. Please tell us a bit about yourself
My name is Andy Garcia and I recently made the transition into the fire service as a full-time firefighter/EMT. I am someone who decided on a career straight out of high school and I was always in fear of not reaching my full potential. Though I loved certain aspects of my previous career, the fulfillment just wasn’t there. I feel I’ve always been someone that tried to adapt the best I could to new environments in new situations and I knew that was going to be a huge factor in me making this transition.
2. How old were you when you decided to pursue a career in firefighting?
I was 29 years old when I decided to make the career change and completely start from scratch. That was very scary for us as a family being that we have the responsibility of providing for our two children. By the time I finally made it on, I was close to my 34th birthday.
3. What was your previous career?
My previous career was in illustration, graphic arts and web design. I still have a deep love for creating artwork but like I say, having that as a career just wasn’t right for myself and for my family. It wasn’t providing a solid foundation the way I’d hoped. It was a deep lack of consistency, A lack of fulfillment in my daily life, and not very much opportunity for career advancement and growth.
4. What surprised you about your transition?
I wouldn’t say that there was much surprise about this transition. I knew overall, that it was going to be difficult and that I would be tested on a daily basis. This would continue to place me outside of my comfort zone but I continued to have faith that being outside of my comfort zone was where the growth was going to occur and ultimately reach those goals. I was fortunate enough to be able to ask current firefighters what the transition was like and what to expect. Although the transition is different for everyone and I didn’t have a clear perspective on what it would be like for someone in my position. My concerns were about the age that I was at in making this transition, having to continue to provide for my family with a full-time job, and going to school and meeting the demands of this process as a whole. Not to mention the physical demands and I wasn’t exactly in the greatest shape when I decided to make this transition.
5. What was hardest?
I would say that it was all equally difficult. This transition has been by far, the most difficult process that I’ve ever gone through in my life. At the same time, it’s been the most rewarding accomplishment in my life thus far. With that being said all of it being equally difficult, continuing to make an effort to keep the balance in my daily life and work towards those goals would have to be the hardest part. You feel like you’re being pulled in so many different directions, yet you have to perform to the best of your ability in each area. A lot of mistakes happen along the way and it’s very easy to get discouraged. But, the main thing to continue to remember is to stay focused and to continue to put forth your best effort. In the end, that will yield the best results in my opinion. In addition to trying to maintain a balance, having patience throughout the whole process was very difficult as well. This is a very slow and rigorous process and it’s different for everyone.
6. What was easiest?
It’s tough to pick anything out to say that it was the easiest about this whole process. I guess I have to say simply showing up was the easiest part. In having to balance daily life, then switch gears to being a student, there was no excuse for me not to show up. I had to be there and that was that.
7. How did your age play into your transition?
I think my age didn’t play as much of a role in this whole process as I want to say it did. In my own head I played it like it was a hindrance. Throughout each step of the process, I was always in the group of the older people in the class. By the time I got into my final academy to get my full-time job, I was the average age and the strongest person in the class physically and mentally turned out to be the oldest. He was 40 years old during the Academy. So while I’d say that we certainly have a bit more of an obstacle being the age that we are, it’s only as much of an obstacle as we make it.
8. What would you recommend to someone considering a change?
My recommendations would be to prepare as early and as often as possible. To make this transition requires mental and physical strength. One cannot overstep the other or hide the other. You have to place yourself in an uncomfortable position day in and day out and continue to be transparent and vulnerable to a certain degree. Once you are in that position is when you were asked to perform. Essentially, you’re learning how to perform under pressure. The sooner you get used to that, the better off you’ll be. That’s what this job is all about…performing under pressure.
9. What do they not teach in the academy that everyone should know?
Academies in my opinion, are designed to break you down physically and mentally. Then they build you back up. You learn that mental and physical game to a certain degree. But what only you can teach yourself, is how to reach your breaking point on a regular basis and how to push past that point. That’s where growth occurs. It’s outside of your comfort zone and it’s when you’re mentally and physically exhausted. It’s painful. You have to learn that pain is your friend. It’s there to help you learn. It’s there to help you grow. It’s there to help you reach your goals. The more pain you feel, the closer you are to your goals.
10. Favorite thing to do in down-time?
Being a probationary firefighter currently, my downtime consist of cleaning and studying. So I wouldn’t say there’s much enjoyment in that. But, the fact that I’m there and have the opportunity to spend my time cleaning and studying means that I’ve reached my goals and continue to strive for more. I find much enjoyment and satisfaction knowing that. With that being said, away from the station, I enjoy time with my family and my friends as much as possible. One thing this job has allowed me to do, which is one that I was in search of to begin with, is balance in life. Work hard, play hard.
Thank you Andy!