Blaze of Glory Fitness was started from the passion of Shay Mountford (they/them). Here's their story.
In the Beginning
I am a retired firefighter (as of 2022 with over 20 years in the fire service and 26 years as an EMT) with a local fire agency here in the San Francisco Bay Area. I will tell you hands-down that being a firefighter IS the best job in the world. I did not grow up in the fire service, and no one I knew was a firefighter or did anything remotely close. I grew up being told to "act like a lady" by my mom. She had the best intentions for me but forced me into dresses and put curls in my long blonde hair, which I hated! I was a tomboy. I liked anything outdoors or physical. I was the only girl playing football with the boys and wore a dress while doing so.
As I grew up my love for sports grew stronger. I lived my early 20s not knowing what I wanted to do as a career. I decided to be a nanny because of my love for kids, and it was far removed from having a "desk job".
One day I took the kids I nannied for to the grocery store and there was a shiny red fire engine in the parking lot. Of course the kids wanted to go say hi to the firefighter standing outside the engine. We walked over, and we were warmly greeted by this very tall, husky man with a big handlebar mustache. He showed us all around the fire engine and answered questions happily. After a short time I found myself very interested in asking a ton of questions regarding the job of a firefighter. The firefighter invited me to his station the next time he was on shift. I took him up on his offer and met him at his station the following week. We sat down and talked for about three hours about the fire service and what it took to become a firefighter. When I left, I knew that someday, I was going to become a firefighter. It wasn't a matter of if, it was a matter of when. I finally figured out what my passion was, fighting fires and helping people. Little did I know the work that would lie ahead of me for the next six years.
Preparing to Become a Firefighter
The first step I needed to take was to become an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) and start some basic fire science classes at a local community college. I kept my job as a nanny during the day and went to school at night to start my path as a future firefighter. I started looking for fire departments that were hiring. To my surprise, they didn't advertise in the newspapers like other jobs did (remember this was in the late 1990s before the internet!). I had to learn to network with fellow classmates and I also joined a great website called firecareers.com. They list every agency looking to hire over the entire United States.
Shay in Academy
During this time I also decided to take a physical agility class at school. It was a workout class and ran students periodically through a fire agility test. It was a huge eye-opener for me as far as understanding the huge physical demands it took to even get close to passing the test. I put everything I had into that class but I ended up failing. So I took it again the very next semester, tried my best, but failed again the second time. I kept my heart in it and kept taking written tests for local fire departments. Unfortunately those were difficult for me too, the math portion kept failing me. Eventually I hired a firefighter to tutor me and help me where I could not only pass the written but get in the high 90s. Keep in mind that time was ticking by for me. I started the process when I was 26 years old. I continued to persevere.
As soon as I got my EMT certification, I applied to all of the local ambulance companies. I did well in the oral interview, but was not getting hired. I started asking questions to figure out what I was doing wrong, the answer? I had two speeding tickets on my driving record and no ambulance company would touch me. I had to wait for them to fade off my record.
While waiting for that, I got picked up with a volunteer group called Rock Medicine. They hire EMTs, paramedics, nurses, firefighters, doctors, etc. to work medical staff for all of the major venues in the bay area. It was a great experience and good to utilize my EMT certification.
I continued to take tests with fire agencies and continued to improve my physical fitness. Slowly but surely I was getting farther and farther along in the process. At this point I was moving past the written exams and taking physical agility tests. Some I passed and some I failed, but it was OK. It just drove me to work harder. I weighed about 120 pounds soaking wet, but I had a huge heart filled with passion, drive, and perseverance that could outweigh and out muscle anybody standing next to me.
A few years had passed during this time, I was getting anxious to get hired since I was approaching 30. I tested and tested and tested. I ate, drank, and slept fire. It was constantly in my mind. Now I was not only passing written exams, I was passing the physical agility tests and oral board interviews.
When I was 31 years old they came out with a test called the CPAT which is a Candidate Physical Ability Test. Rather then fire departments doing their own individual tests, they hire this company to put them on for them. When you pass this CPAT, you get a card that is good for six months to one year. You show that card to the local agency you are testing for. They still exist to this day and fire departments all over the nation use them as the standard for their physical ability test.
Living the Dream: Life in the Fire Service
On January 10, 2002 my life would change forever. I got an invitation to go through an oral board interview with a local fire department here in the Bay Area. I did very well. I rated number seven out of 18. I moved onto the background investigation, then the medicals and psychological exam.
A few more months had passed and on March 3, 2002, I got the phone call of my life. It was the Fire Chief offering me a job. My dream had come true and on April 1, I started my first day as a recruit. We went through a 16 week Academy. Not only did I graduate successfully I graduated at the top of my class.
I went through Academy with some of the best people I've ever met in my life. We supported each other and encouraged each other the entire time. Failure was not an option! Now they are my family. As I step forward into retirement, I know I had an amazing time throughout my years in the fire service and want others to have the same.
Paying it Forward
I have seen triumph and tragedy. I've had to look in the eyes of grieving mothers, fathers, sons and daughters. Been thanked endlessly for saving someone's house or loved ones from fires. I wouldn't change a thing. I want to pass this amazing experience on to others, people who are looking for a career in the fire service. It takes a lot of strength and technique to succeed, but as long as there is spirit, heart and perseverance, anyone can blaze their own path of glory. I am here to help guide people towards this goal. This program is designed to help get you physically fit and mentally prepared for Academy.
I hold my instructor 1A, B, and C certifications for the state of California, as well as ethical leadership in the classroom. I ran the physical fitness portion for the explorer program for my fire agency, teaching and mentoring young adults to prepare them for the fire service. I also have been involved with the hiring and recruitment process through participating on many oral board interview panels for a variety of departments and serving as chair for the diversity committee. Not only do I want Blaze to help get you physically ready, I want to help individuals out with any portion of the testing and hiring process (written tests, agility tests, station visits, oral board interviews, etc).
This is my story and my mission.