Ex-Military Fire Chief Returns to War Zone

How Air Force veteran-turned-fire-chief Sandy Sanders tailored his resume to land a hot new job.


Sandy Sanders is a trained leader. After 20 years in the Air Force, the last 10 as a fire chief, and several more as a civilian fire chief, he was looking for a job that would use his skills managing a big fire department or multiple operations.

Two years ago, he was fire chief at an airport in Curacao — a job he knew would be ending after a change in management. At that point, he posted his resume on OpsLadder and decided to take advantage of Ladders’ resume-writing services. The resume rewrite prompted him to consider how he wanted to proceed with his job search.

Casting a wide net

“(I was looking) for fire-department positions on Ladders but never found any before,” Sanders said. “What I did find was operations jobs and director of quality assurance roles, which are positions I qualify for. I thought, ’Maybe I need to make a career change.’ But my heart always belonged to the fire department.”

“When I redid my resume, the woman who helped me asked, ‘What are you really looking for?’ I told her, ‘I’m looking for a fire-chief position, but here is everything I am qualified to do.’ We focused it more on operations because I was seeking a director position, and those are the words that would pop up for recruiters more than other things. The resume included my background in fire service and quality control.”

In July 2007, that resume helped him to land with Pro-Tec Fire Services Ltd. to manage the Bob Hope airport in Burbank, Calif.,. And while he was happy was about the job, Sanders said, he still held out hope that he could find another job as a fire chief.

Keeping your options open

He changed his resume again to focus on his experience as a fire chief and added “Operations” and “Quality” keywords to fill out his background history. He kept his resume on Ladders, knowing that jobs for fire chiefs at large locations are few and far between. “I posted my resume, and it stayed there for quite some time,” he said.

Meanwhile, Sanders was taking on more responsibility at his job at the Burbank airport. He spent a good amount of time making sure the airport met all Federal Aviation Administration standards. Inspections from the FAA passed with flying colors, and Pro-Tec put him to work at other properties the company managed. The company asked Sanders to take his training manual to other airports to improve ratings of those airports. He began traveling to these other airports to train staff and troubleshoot issues.

And then, a year after posting his rewritten resume, he unexpectedly got a bite.

In August 2008, KBR, the huge construction- and engineering-services company, was looking for a fire chief to work in Asia and the Middle East. He was contacted by a recruiter who spoke to him about his work history. And a few weeks later, he spoke to another recruiter. The more KBR recruiters got to know about Sanders, the more tailored to his experience the job description became.

“We talked about once a week,” Sanders said. “As each recruiter called me, we’d bring it to the next level. The more we talked, the more we got into my background, my experience, my education and how I got to the point I was at.”

Creating your own adventure

Sanders and KBR spoke over the next four months. By New Year’s, Sanders said, KBR told him, “’We are looking at a different position. This is what we want. How can you help us?’ We talked from January to April, defining my role and responsibilities, and how this program will grow and change.”

In the end, he was able to tailor his job to his specific strengths. Since April he has been the executive fire chief for KBR. His family will remain in California while he spends much of the next year traveling. And, while he will get a couple of weeks of vacation every four months and fly his family anywhere in the world to meet him, he’s hoping the overseas part of his job is temporary. “My goal is to get everything straight in the first year and then move up to a corporate level and return to the States. If I do everything right, my replacement will be able to take it from there.”

After he finishes a training program in Houston this June, he will be in charge of fire stations in 44 locations in Asia and the Middle East. His job is to make sure all these locations, many of them in war zones, are running smoothly.

After 20 years in the U.S. Southern Command, he had become familiar with working in war zones. He was part of both Desert Shield in 1990 and Desert Storm in 1991, helping to put out those fires spouting from oil wells in Kuwait. It’s no surprise that KBR was confident in his ability to stay cool in hot spots.