by Cheryl Senn
The Sanger Fire Department hired three new firefighter/paramedics this past July. The three new firefighter/paramedics who will be making sure Sanger residents are safe are: Andrew Askew, Dominick Foster and Joseph Montejano.
“I put my best effort into hiring the best candidates I can find, in the Valley,” said Interim Fire Chief Greg Tarascou. “They don’t get any better than this.”
Tarascou said the reason the department was able to hire three new people was “because of the attrition we’ve had the last couple of years. With the vacancies and retirements and unfortunately with Captain Lovett passing away, left some vacancies in the department. So, what we did, we were able to move people up. Promote from within. We were able to promote some new folks in. That left some spaces at the bottom levels that we were able to bring in new folks to cover those that moved out.”
The hiring of two firefighter/paramedics and one for ambulance benefited from Measure S. “We were very fortunate we were able to bring in three new guys,” continued Tarascou.
According to Tarascou, the testing process was extremely complicated and 85 people showed up for that portion of the testing. Once the written test was passed, there was an agility test and an oral interview with a final point tally given after all the testing. “We took the top three that scored the highest points, straight off the list.” The list that was established will be in effect for one year and be used in the future should the need arise.
Askew has served with Fresno County Fire Protection District as a Fire Apparatus Operator on a part-time basis and he also worked for Cal Fire for one season. “I started my firefighting career, here, as a volunteer, with the City of Sanger, in 2008,” said Askew.Askew did not discover his passion to be a firefighter until later in life. He wanted to be a doctor and then right after high school he had to work because of his parent’s divorce. Askew worked as a construction foreman but he and his wife knew he wanted to do something different. He had a buddy who was a firefighter and his friend invited him to go for a ride long and that is when he decided to work at becoming a firefighter/paramedic. “I’m a pretty motivated person and if there is something I want to do, I’ll do it.”
Askew stated that the firefighting team is nice and inviting. Being at the Sanger Fire Station, “Feels like home.” One of the biggest challenges Askew faces is to remember his role as a probationary firefighter. “As a first year rookie fireman I need to make sure I’m busy all the time,” said Askew, who also said he needs to make sure not to step outside his boundaries and to keep up on his training.
The biggest surprise he has experienced was that he now gets to sit up front in the ambulance. “I’m not sitting in the back when we’re going on calls. That’s my favorite part I think. I’m in the engine, I get my own gear. My own bed, my own locker.”
Askew had two job offers, including the one with the Sanger Fire Department. “I’m glad that the chief called first and offered me the job. This is where I want to be. This is where I started and this is where I want to finish.”
Foster said when he was little he wanted to play professional baseball but ended up sustaining an injury and had to have elbow surgery. “Ever since I was little, I had baseball coaches that were firefighters. I think it started at a young age. Always looking up to them, so I wanted to follow in their footsteps.”
Foster knew some guys that worked at American Ambulance who had transitioned over to the Sanger Fire Department and heard the stories about what the department and City were like. “It sounded very interesting and intrigued me to wait for it to open up. And sure enough, it did a couple of months ago.”
The biggest challenge facing Foster right now is having to gain fire experience. “There is a lot more that goes into the job than just, let’s put water on the fire. There is a lot of science behind the stuff that we do, that can hinder our operations or help us,” added Foster, who said there is a lot to learn and he needs to be patient.Foster has been married a year and a half and has no children. His family was excited when Foster was hired because “they knew this was a dream of mine, to be able to get on here. It was just a fulfillment of that and there is still a long journey ahead. To be able to start that process, they were all very excited for me.”
Foster feels there is an advantage to working in a small fire department and in a small town because everybody knows everybody. “We have 21 fire suppression personnel and we hang out together, our families hang out together. Our kids know each other. Even the aspect of being with the guys at the station for 48 hours, you get to know one another, but even off duty the families get to know one another and hang out.”
Foster enjoys the community of Sanger because the community is receptive to what the department has to teach and everyone is friendly. He likes the community of Sanger so much that he and his wife have been thinking about moving into the City. For now, Foster is concentrating on learning and adjusting to his new job.
Montejano said he had wanted to be a firefighter his whole life, so when he turned 18 he put himself through city college’s fire academy. “I started working at American Ambulance, where I became a paramedic, to learn how to work on an ambulance so I could work at a department that works like this, that runs their own ambulance.”
Montejano, like Foster, feels the smaller department has benefits. “The fact that I will have the opportunity to wear so many hats here. I can be part of the rescue team, I can work on the ambulance, I can be on the engine the next day.” He would also like to get involved with the arson investigation program.
Married for two years, Montejano and his wife have a 13 month-old child and his wife is expecting their second child in October.
“The part I like the most, about being here, as opposed to my last job, is that everyone wants to be here,” continued Montejano. “Everyone is here, with a great attitude. They want to help the people we work for and they want to help each other. Every other job I’ve had in the past, it’s just not like that. People don’t want to go to work. They don’t want to be there. A long day, they’re just grumpy and tired. Here is just a great atmosphere. I was just thinking, last night that, if I wasn’t married with a kid, and wanted to go home and see them, you couldn’t get me out of the station.”
Askew, Foster and Montejano say that working in the City of Sanger is great because of the feeling of family and the ability to help people. “That means a lot to me. To be able to help not just that individual, but helping the whole community,” said Foster.
All three new firefighters agree there are misconceptions about what a firefighter does. The perception may be that firefighters sit around all day until the tone sounds. “There is a lot of work that goes into it behind the scenes, there is a lot of maintenance to keep these rigs going,” said Askew, who also stated that there is time spent on physical training and education and the maintenance on the firehouse as well.
According to Tarascou, Askew, Foster and Montejano are fitting right in and going to do well there and he is looking forward to keeping them there for a long and healthy career. “They’re really good guys, bringing a lot of pre-hospital experience. They are excellent clinicians in the field. Firefighting skills are second nature to them right now. All three of them have different levels of firefighting skills. I think blending them together with some pretty strong firefighters, on shift, and their captains, they are progressing well. They’re moving right along.”
The fire department has plans to do some community outreach with programs like diabetes awareness and prevention and a fitness boot camp. “Public interaction is so critical in a small department,” continued Tarascou. “We want to be good neighbors to our citizens here. Opening up our firehouse and making sure that the public knows we’re here is really important.”
Watch KRL for more Sanger articles from Cheryl.