I have been in the fire service for around 20 years. The last 17 as a career firefighter. Some of this list might have more of a “career” viewpoint, but I am sure it also speaks true for the volunteer and paid-on-call side as well. As I often write, I am not perfect. Many of these ideas (and there are many other great ones) are ones that I have experienced, learned from, or still struggle with.
Feel free to add your ideas in the comments and let me know which one you like the most or least. Or share your thoughts on The Fire Critic FB page!
1. Be Positive
I just read an excellent post shared by the In These Boots FB group. The post, written in 2010 and shared yesterday on the group, does an excellent job of putting things in perspective. It is very easy for us to find things wrong with what we see (with or without being there), but you are better off focusing on the things you see people do right. There will be a time for discipline if firefighters are out of line…and a time for training so we don’t make the same mistakes again. But it takes a true leader to not focus entirely on what could be getting done better and commend the firefighters for what they are doing right!
Excerpt: The purpose of this post is to remind us to study all fires but “don’t fight the ones you ain’t at” and that “it’s easy to judge them when you arrive after it is out” and that if “you walk past nine good things looking for one bad thing you are a Walk by Nine boss.” Read it all
2. Focus on Your Health
Firefighters are exposed to a lot of bad things in their careers. Terrible calls, injuries, stress, carcinogens, unhealthy diets, insufficient sleep, and more can effect our health. These factors can effect our health negatively in many different ways. Take the time to focus on your health and keep your mind and body refreshed! Learn about good nutrition and make time for some cardiovascular exercise regularly! Check out 555 Fitness for a bunch of great information and getting involved with working out with others through their mobile app.
3. Continue Learning
Throughout your time in the fire service, continue learning about firefighting fundamentals, strategy, tactics, specialized teams, leadership, management, and everything else. Learn through classes, lectures, online videos, articles, blogs, and teaching/talking/listening to others at the firehouse. Start or continue your college education if you seek vertical progression in your department. Go to trade shows. Ask questions. LISTEN. Listen to others opinions and be open-minded of others ideas.
4. Firefighting isn’t Everything
Enjoy time away from your firehouse. Especially if you have a part-time job on the side; or if you are a volunteer and have a career outside the fire service. Make time for your family. Make time for yourself. Enjoy your hobbies. Enjoy life.
5. Know Your Roll
Understand where you fit in on the fire scene and at the firehouse. Know your strengths and weaknesses. Know that of your peers as well. Utilize others for their strengths and learn from them. If given the opportunity, help them with their weaknesses. So many firefighters begin their fire service careers thinking they know everything and end their careers with not sharing everything they know. Don’t be that guy/gal! Help others at every step of the process. If you can’t cook, be the best dish washer ever!
6. Ask For Help
If you don’t know something, have a question about something, or would like to learn more…ASK! Ask the right person to help you learn and understand. The simple act of asking for help can say a lot about you. Many decide to hide behind the facade that they know everything. Asking for help, understanding, or clarification can show that your willingness to learn and show others that you are not above asking for help. I know it is a lot for some of us macho types to comprehend.
7. Treat it Like Your Own
In order to fight fire, provide EMS, HTR, HAZMAT, and other services, we are entrusted with very expensive equipment. This equipment is typically not bought with our own money. Through funding, fundraisers, and budgets we are able to acquire the equipment we need to operate. Many fire departments do not have reserve equipment to utilize if our main pieces break, and many also fix the equipment themselves. This equipment, our furnishings at the firehouse, our gear, and our apparatus should be treated as though it is ours. Damaging equipment, negligent utilization, and poor maintenance should not be tolerated and can create unsafe conditions. Do the right thing!
8. Understand the Term “Safe” in our Dangerous Profession
Firefighting is dangerous. No one is going to prove otherwise. When we talk about being safe, taking our safety into consideration, and attempting to make sure others are operating safely we are actually talking about being SMART. Being safe doesn’t mean not going in fires. Taking safety into consideration doesn’t mean not risking our lives for others. And making sure others are operating safely doesn’t mean we have to be “Safety Sally”. What it says to me is that sometimes we are only given one opportunity and we must operate wisely when in dangerous circumstances. Plain and simple.
So many out there hide behind a facade of “we don’t need safety” cause we are firefighters. Bullshit. We get it. You are a macho firefighter. You don’t get it though. If you are so macho, and don’t need safety…why are you wearing PPE? See what I mean. PPE was designed to keep us SAFE from high heat. That is why we wear it…to protect ourselves and keep us safe in dangerous environments. I could go on, but you should understand by now.
9. Treat People Right
This one isn’t always easy. Whether it is the firefighters around you or the people you are called to help, we run into some real characters. This one is something I have really worked on in the past couple of years. After a few less than ideal interactions with people (and giving a really poor example to my fellow firefighters) I realized that what I was doing was wrong. I am better than that, and those people deserved better from me…someone who is sworn to protect and serve. On the occasion that I speak Nationally, I like bringing up this point and delve into the COMPASSION we should be showing the people we interact with. I am a better person now because I realized my flaws and have corrected this. I think of it often, and continually re-evaluate my actions and demeanor.
10. Have Fun
You are a firefighter. The best job in the World. You get to do things and see things that most never dream of. You are afforded an adrenaline rush when fighting fire that few will experience. You are a part of a noble profession. You chose this profession (or volunteer service) on your own and put in the hard work and dedication to get the position. Don’t forget that. Don’t forget the fun of the job. Smile and laugh often! Enjoy it!