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WWU / Fairhaven College of Interdiscipinary Studies

Quote: ACS is an amazing field of study…. most likely your job prospects when you graduate are not going to be explicitly in this field, but it will apply to everything you do. - Brett Omri

Brett Omri

Fire Fighter

What made you decide to concentrate on American Cultural Studies?

It was pretty simplistic really – I just wanted to understand the history behind the racial and ethnic conflict in this country and more importantly why it continues to persist. I had grown up and was educated in a very diverse community and found it hard to understand why seemingly insignificant differences between racial and ethnic groups caused so much anger and distrust.


How did you choose your career/field?

I certainly did not intend on becoming a firefighter when I graduated. I started looking for employment in non-profits and community service organizations but always fell short of being hired due to my inexperience in the workplace or the salary made it impossible to support my family. Firefighting was suggested to me and the more I investigated it, the more I realized it was a great fit. I work in the community I was raised and educated in and I am able to apply what I learned in ACS everyday on the job.


What has your path since ACS looked like?

It started off as a floundering one. ACS is not exactly a cookie cutter field of study that presents a clear career path to follow. What it does challenge you to do is to find something that makes a difference. I found that in the Fire Service. When I finally was hired by Seattle as a firefighter I had been a stay-at-home dad for about five years. It certainly was not what I had expected to be doing when I left WWU, but I ended up in an amazing job.


How did ACS influence that path?

ACS influenced my path into the fire service because I found it is one of the few pure public service occupations left. Our job is strictly to help our community members during what often may be the worst day of their lives. When we arrive at a scene we are expected to provide patient care and incident mitigation without regard to race, class, gender, sexual orientation, religion, etc. We have a job to do and we are expected to do it to the best of our abilities. Pretty cut and dry and I love that about my job.


What kind of training, licenses, and education were required?

In Seattle to apply to be a firefighter you only need to be over the age of 18, have a valid driver’s license and a high school diploma or equivalent. By the time you start recruit school you need to have your certification as an Emergency Medical Technician - Basic (EMT - B). From there once you are hired you are required to participate in recruit school which is roughly twelve weeks where you gain your Fire Fighter I certification and other training required by the Seattle Fire Department. After recruit school you continue for another 9 months out in the field on probation. At the end of that long process you become a tenured firefighter. It is an incredibly grueling and challenging process from the hiring process to the end of your probation. Most people don’t make it. Often times for 24 or 25 spots there will be 3000 applicants. But even after we are hired permanently we constantly train and re-certify on our skills, so the learning never stops.


What kinds of prior experiences were essential?

There really isn’t any set experiences necessary. Firefighters have an amazing breadth of skills just from each individuals work and life history. I think the real only essential element in becoming a good, effective firefighter is a strong commitment to community service. That is a very hard thing to quantify but it is the single most important thing that will make you good at your job. If you care, you go the extra mile. And that is something the public expects from us.


What other attributes (personal or otherwise) were essential?

You need to be physically fit; have the ability to adapt and learn quickly (the learning curve starting out is ENORMOUS); and the ability to perform under pressure and manage stress effectively. The last attribute which may be the most important is thriving in a team atmosphere. Most people have heard about firehouse camaraderie, but it really is an amazing thing. Being stuck with someone for 24 hours is a pretty incredible way to get to know their story. It also provides an atmosphere to develop friendships between people who wouldn’t normally become close. Trusting the person next to you is essential to be an effective team and with trust all sorts of other doors open up. There are still conflicts and prejudices but a lot of barriers get broken down around the dinner table.


Reflecting on your time as a student, what was the best/most important/influential part of your experience?

The most important part of my experience of a student was discovering how much I had to learn and coming to the realization that the search for truth was a lifelong journey if you work at keeping your mind open to the world around you. And that I found how enriching it can be to be around people who don’t agree with you. I have really grown to love that.


What advice would you give to entering or current students?

ACS is an amazing field of study….and most likely your job prospects when you graduate are not going to be explicitly in this field, but it will apply to everything you do. My only piece of advice to give would be this: Listen more than you talk. In classroom discussions you can miss so much trying to be clever and right. Remember in those heated moments to look beyond the words people are saying and dig at the meaning behind them. Most of us are not so communicatively gifted as to make our intent clear 100% of the time.


Please describe a typical day for you.

On a typical work day I get about around 4 AM so I can get to the station early and work out. I then shower and prepare for my shift. At around 7:30am we relieve the outgoing crew and our work day begins. We are then on call until 7:30am the following morning. That means we go on emergency runs, as needed, for the next 24 hours. Throughout the day we have housework, station maintenance, inspections for buildings and fire hydrants in our district, and training. We eat all our meals at the fire station so we do all our meal prep and cooking during the day as well. At 10pm is when we can go to sleep, but we still respond to any emergencies in our district. We wake up the following morning at 7am and await the on-coming shift to relieve us.


What does the future hold for you?

I have had enough trajectory changes in my life to understand the wisdom in not answering that question. All I know is that with my family with me, I’m looking forward to seeing how life plays out.


American Cultural Studies

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