The department’s medical team checked me over in the ambulance, I answered a few questions for the police (who had arrived at a more leisurely pace than the fire department) and I was cleared to return to work.
I was still shaken as I walked into the office and told my boss what had happened. Her response: “Were the firefighters really hunky?”
Lack of apparent concern for my well-being aside, I had to admit to her that, indeed, there had been two truckloads of fit, young, good-looking dudes, at least if you like a man in giant radio headphones and a tight shirt.
More recently, when I stopped by the Santa Fe County Fire Department station in the village of Agua Fria to inquire about a burn permit, both a man and woman were on hand to help me with my inquiries. They wore close-fitting workout regalia—there’s lots of time for exercise between spurts of dangerous duty—and I swear to you they had been perfectly formed in some kind of muscle-building vat. For all I know, I interrupted their preparations to breed a super race of happy, tanned, cardiovascularly superior first responders.
I stared at them openly.
It makes sense that firefighters need to be in good physical shape: running into burning buildings, scaling trees to rescue cats, freeing injured people from mangled cars, handling heavy equipment—it’s best we weed out the wheezing, overweight, weakling masses.
But Santa Fe’s firefighters aren’t just fit—they’re well-oiled cyborgs.
Here’s the general rundown of last year’s fitness exam for prospective candidates during the city’s hiring cycle:
• Do a minimum of 150 repetitions over a kind of cruel ziggurat—a set of steps that puts a StairMaster to shame—in 10 minutes. And do it wearing a 40-pound vest.
• Carry a 35-pound hose up a three-story tower while keeping one hand on the stair railing the whole time.
• Set the hose down carefully, then use a rope to hoist and lower a similar hose that same three-story height. Pick up the original hose and descend the tower.
• Use a heavy sledgehammer to move a solid girder six feet.
• Extend a pressurized firefighting hose, open the valve and use the water spray to knock down a series of targets.
• Raise and lower a 20-foot extension ladder.
• Drag a 180-pound deadweight dummy named “Mongo” for 50 feet.
• Do all of those last five tasks in fewer than four minutes—wearing a 40-pound vest.
• If you’re still standing, you get to climb the full length of a truck-mounted extension ladder and hang out above a sheer drop to a hard parking lot and then crawl around a dark room and a little hole while wearing a gas mask—and a 40-pound vest.
If you can do all those things without making a single mistake and within the allotted time limit, you might get to become a cadet and enter the training program at the “16-week, structured paramilitary academy where each recruit is challenged mentally and physically.” The testing and training are identical for men and women.
Presumably, one trains for a firefighter test by traveling to Thailand, seeking out some kind of Yoda-like kickboxing guru and learning to cleave boulders with bare hands and head-butt trees to death.
The truth is not terribly far from that. These days, many fire departments recommend a “CrossFit” regimen, such as the one offered by Santa Fe’s Undisputed Fitness.
A gym or a formalized program isn’t necessary, however, and the concept of CrossFit need never enter one’s mind or wallet. Good, simple exercise aimed at building strength and endurance will do the trick, along with a reasonable diet. My friend José, who did five long years in the Mexican army, recommends lots of carne asada.
Of course, even if you are the fittest prospective firefighter on the block, there’s also a written exam, a psychiatric evaluation, a drug test and a formal interview.
If there’s a secret test to filter through only the Really Really Good-looking prospects, none of the area fire departments are willing to admit it.
Whether or not the City of Santa Fe tests potential cadets this year depends on budget. If testing goes forward, it will be held in November or December. Job postings will go up at nm-santafe.civicplus.com/jobs approximately one month before testing begins. Santa Fe County Fire Department isn’t currently hiring, but is actively seeking to bolster its volunteer roster.