This film explores the exhaustive process that Americans from all walks of life must get through in order to earn a spot in Oakland’s fire department.
Test of Courage: The Making of a Firefighter, is a behind-the-scenes look at the trials and triumphs of a group of young men and women competing to become firefighters. Filmed over the course of three years in Oakland, California - one of the most culturally diverse cities in America - the program follows a cast of aspiring firefighters, men and women from different ethnic backgrounds, who are competing against 5000 applicants for only 50 jobs. The program gets inside the lives and hearts of these applicants and shows the grueling training and preparation they go through as the applicant pool gets continually narrowed down. Also, there are elimination tests of physical agility, intellectual preparedness and a subjective oral interview that goes a long way to determining if the candidate has "the right stuff" for the job.
The face of the American workforce is rapidly changing. According to the National MultiCultural Institute, during the 1990s, people of color, women and immigrants accounted for 85% of the net growth of the nation's labor force. Test of Courage: The Making of a Firefighter explores the day-to-day reality of what it is actually like to work, live and compete in today's new diverse marketplace. The men and women featured mirror the multicultural face of modern-day Oakland. What each of them has in common is a fierce commitment to achieving their dream of joining the fire department.
Chandra Holiday, a young African American woman, struggles with the physical part of the training. Brendan Dunham, a librarian, worries that being "a white guy" is hurting his chances. Bao To, a Vietnamese immigrant, shows how passion for the department turned his life around. Terry Sanders, a 26-year-old African American musician, is looking for a different kind of career. Frank Tijiboy, the son of Latino immigrants, wants to get the job because he's the best candidate, not because he's a minority. For each of them, becoming a firefighter is about much more than getting a job. It's about being recognized as an important and honored member of American society.
In this cynical age, firefighting is still a heroic and noble profession, and Test of Courage: The Making of a Firefighter gives viewers a taste of the tremendous high and great satisfaction that firefighters get from the job. More and more, firefighters are called on to deal with non-fire emergencies in the community, and several minority firefighters talk about the positive reaction they get from dealing with citizens who see themselves mirrored by those in uniforms. But change takes time. For this new generation of Oakland firefighters, one of the most profound tests of their courage will come when the ideals of workplace diversity are tested in the daily reality of firehouse life and the moment of truth when they must put their lives in each other's hands