When it came to the Los Angeles County Fire Department’s engineer exam, failure was not an option for Fire Fighter Specialist Robert Smith.
“I fought hard to get here,” said Smith, who on Thursday, April 16, was recognized by a local Rotary Club as Lawndale’s Firefighter of the Year.
He’s not ashamed to admit that the first five times he took the exam, he didn’t pass. Instead of giving up, he studied harder and tried again the next time around—even if he had to wait two years between each test.
“I’m proud of the fact that I finally made it, and I never quit,” he said. “I kept coming back, coming back.”
Smith grew up swimming and working as a lifeguard in San Diego, and joined the Navy, initially as a firefighter, after graduating from high school. His swimming abilities stood out, however, and he soon became a rescue swimmer with a helicopter team.
Nine years later, he left the Navy and earned a fire science degree. He spent three years in a federal fire department before taking the Los Angeles County Fire Department test “on a whim.”
“I always thought I’d remain a San Diego guy,” he said.
Fifteen years later, Smith is at Fire Station 21 in Lawndale, and “there’s … nowhere else that I’d rather be working,” he said.