Are We Doomed?

Are we doomed? Is the fire service as we know it, or think we know it, over? I entered the fire service as a young man, as in still a teenager. I was hired as a career firefighter at the age of 21. In my early years as a volunteer, I was obviously mentored by older members. When I became a career firefighter this mentoring continued as I worked with veteran firefighters and officers, they ‘showed me the ropes’. They taught me new things, shared their experiences, and thankfully showed me a great deal of patience. My question is, are we still doing those things today?


The young firefighters entering public service today are certainly a mixed bag of personalities and backgrounds. These unique traits will require those of you in leadership roles, both formal and informal, to face a host of issues you may not have experienced yourself.

No labor experience

I’m not talking about organized labor, I mean manual labor. Many young firefighters I see in the training academies, or getting hired on to the job often have very little experience performing manual labor. Swinging a hammer, carrying loads, working a shovel; several young firefighters were never exposed to this these types of activities. You see it in complaints about working in the heat or the cold we also see it in failure to work until the work is done and I noticed it in their lack of mechanical ability.

I once had a captain assign a new firefighter to mow the grass in front of the station. In the process of mowing, the firefighter ran over the cast iron street key shut-off sticking up in the yard, and caused major damage to the mower. I interrupted the Captain as he was painfully critiquing the firefighter’s performance and asked, “Have you operated a riding lawn mower before?” His response, “No sir.” This young man had grown up in an apartment complex and had never been exposed to such a thing. How many young men and women on your department have never operated equipment before they came on? How many kids are growing up today that have never mowed the grass, painted the house, pulled weeds, and the list goes on…. A famous fire chief once wrote, “We are hiring kids today that don’t know the difference between and monkey wrench and a petunia”

The burden of technology

Some of us joke about having to write reports in pen. I know so of you ‘seasoned’ members out there probably scratched them out on stone tablets. Firefighters coming on the job today have always been surrounded by technology. A 21-year-old firefighter today was born in 1994. By that time we already had the internet, email, digital video and photos, and cell phones. When they began high school in 2009,smart phones had video conferencing, video games that look like movies, and texting was the new norm. They grew up in a time of instant communication and a constant feed of information.

How does this new wave of firefighters different from the past? Communication has certainly changed in the last 10 years. I find that they expect instant information or feedback. Remember writing a memo on actual paper and submitting up to the Chief via the chain of command? Your response was not instant. Remember reading actual magazines from actual publishers? Much different from today where anyone can have a blog or record a video on a new topic. More and more of the information new firefighters are being exposed to have not been reviewed for content or merit.

And what about smart phones? I admit that I am probably addicted to my iPhone but, what about this new generation? Texting at work, snapchatting, twittering, Facebooking, playing games. Come on!

So where are we headed? Are we doomed? I feel the company officer of today certainly has some challenges with this next generation of firefighters. They need more guidance. They need more mentoring. They require officers and leaders to step up and do their job. We must engage these new firefighters and teach them our craft.

Educate and Lead!


This new generation is very smart. Competition is for these jobs is tougher than ever, the cream should have risen to the top. They are prone to asking questions, they deserve good answers. These firefighters grew up asking ‘why’  more than previous generations. They will find the information out there, make sure it is the version you want them to learn.
We must teach them our expectations. Show them what we mean by service before self. Show them company pride and pride in their work. The officer and the senior firefighter need to set a great example every day of what it means to take care of business. Leaders must practice what they preach.



Talk to them, find their strengths and weaknesses and build on them. Young men and women today have more problems communicating face to face; they have grown up in the realm of digital communication. Do not take their silence as understanding what you are explaining.
Officers and informal leaders must help these new firefighters with their interpersonal skills. Show them how to solve problems and how to get along with others in the firehouse. Teach them our culture and show them how brotherhood is a responsibility of each and every one of us.

Use their talents!

They are tech savvy, utilize their skills in that area. Is it time to refresh your PowerPoint presentations used in training? Let them work their magic. Need to tune up your PR presentations? They know the tricks with editing and graphics. At the same time, emphasize to them that this is still a hands on job that requires manual labor. We get dirty, we train outside in our gear. Not all training can be done on a computer where you print a certificate at the end.


I have found that if you are going to show them something in training you had better make it exciting. This new generation likes to see facts and data but they also need to see application. Today we are flooded with videos on the internet, we watch them, share them, and love to critique them. I like to use the ‘video of the day’ in training. Do not teach them to second guess what others have done; but ask them, “How would we handle this?”  They are a great tool to provide new firefighters a glimpse of fire ground operations where they can learn from the actions of others.

Set limits!


Make them put their phones away during training time. They will live without their phones. They may die if they do not ingest your information. This generation grew up when they didn’t keep score in sports and everyone got a ribbon. They were taught in school that everyone is a leader and as long as you try that is good enough. We know that is not how it is in the fire service. Our leaders, be it officers or senior firefighters, need to lead and mentor these new firefighters in the ways that made this job great. We are not doomed, but we must actively lead the way.

Chief Cline

Sr. Staff Correspondent


  1. Great article! I’ve only been on a career department for a year and a half, and am eager every shift to train and get the equipment out to get the muscle memory for it. Any advice for rookies who are in a station where training is seen as a nuisance or a waste of time because “that will never happen”? I do training on my own, but can never muster up the whole crew to do it too.


    • Get a station or shift transfer. If they are not training with you they will get you killed

    • Be the one to change the culture. I’m sure there are guys just like you that are afraid to speak out. I was in your shoes 20-some years ago. It’s easier to be a follower than a leader. Keep doing what you’re doing and don’t let their complacency bite you in the backside.

  2. More of a problem with what Chiefs are looking for in candidates. A lot of qualified candidates get looked over for a 22 year old with bachelor’s degree in basket weaving.

  3. You can’t train an elephant to be a duck, so don’t start with someone you don’t want. If I had one question only for a candidate it would be, Tell me something, anything, about a two cycle engine.

    Hire slowly, fire quickly

  4. The new generation has a different learning style. Some are highly educated. Most need instant gratification. It is up to us as leaders to change our approach to mentoring and adjust our styles to help them the way our mentors did for us. Be patient – they won’t let us down.

  5. Excellent article Chief! We are experiencing these issues more and more everyday in the Fire Department as the rookies seemingly get “greener”, entering the Firehouse with limited to no life experience. It’s difficult sometimes to deal with these issues and as always we have to evolve, to a certain extent, in our inclusion, training and sometimes upbringing of our Probies.

    THE MEMBERSHIP: For decades the pool was made up with like minded people who would join the department, follow the rules, understood the chain of command, respected the officers and senior members, appreciated the history of the organization, spent a lot of time assisting every way they could. They asked very few questions and tried to fit in. The leadership and older members, many who served in WWII, Korea, Vietnam and many with military back ground were conditioned to follow orders, not to question authority. They never bucked the system or the chain of command, assisted the department every way they could, many times out of their own pocket. They served on every committee they could, appreciated the history and older member’s contributions to the department and kept their mouths shut. Their parents were strict and most of these people lead very structured lives. They took pride in the equipment they had which was nothing like the show pieces of today. Most had very little money to operate the department and almost everyone showed up for every call, drills, fund raising, funeral, parade, served on many committees and tried to show up for anything going on at the firehouse. They didn’t have to deal with DOH, OFP&C, OSHA or NFPA!
    FIRE SERVICE OF 2015: The pool of people that there is to recruit from has changed. Today everything is someone else’s fault. Why do we keep those old plaques, photos and trophies around? Many don’t recognized or even care about the older members sacrifice and contributions or what the department members had to go through to get where they are today, it is that history thing again – It is “what have you done in the last 15 minutes” that is what they care about. So get use to it………………
    There use to be a little fun around the joint and social events that everyone and their families attended, picnics, BBQs, Softball games etc. Paid for in most part by those who attended. THAT IS GONE FOREVER! Thank you INSURANCE CO, OSHA, DOH, DOT, FBI, ACLU and the numerous others organizations that tell us what to do and how to do it. I know it’s all about “safety” and political correctness.

    Many new members are not as committed to the operation of your fire department as before. They have many other things going on in their lives. The call base for actual fires is not there. Lots of runs but no real fires. CO alarms, telephone wires down, cable TV wires down, EMS Lift assists, fluid spills at car deer wrecks, dispatched to ‘no injury” car wrecks to “check & advise” because the air bag deployed and an automatic false alarm every 11 seconds in the USA. The citizens have been conditions to call 911 when the cat farts. These situations will very soon condition you members that most of these “calls for service” are bullshit and that a lot of time and effort can be wasted running out the door from your dinner or getting out of that bed with nothing to be gained and no one to help.
    Many question authority and don’t think much of the chain of command either. Then they think they should have all the perks and privileges afforded the older members without putting in the “time” or any effort. They wonder why after 24 months or so of making a few “calls” they are not pump operators, drivers, Lieutenant or Captain. A few actually do step up and volunteer to run a committee or project and guess what, in many cases it doesn’t get done, their busy remember.
    Many want to know what the minimum standards are to just get by. Then, some asked when do they get the fancy dress uniform, $5,000 worth of turnout gear, a $400 jumpsuit, a new jacket, the tax break, gasoline allotment and how much retirement money are they going to get and how soon can they get it? You see, they watched a few movies and TV shows like Ladder 49, Backdraft, Emergency reruns, Sirens, Chicago Fire, Third Watch etc. and had NO idea what they were getting into.
    WE NEED NEW MEMBERS: We are dragging people in to be members because we need help, this is good and bad. Years ago they came from the families of present members. They had some appreciation of what their dads, uncles and brothers went through to get the department where it is today. In many cases the newer members don’t really care about your department traditions or history. Many have no respect for authority, their parents, their friends, their bosses or other members of the outfit. They are not programmed that way anymore. It is not their fault. They didn’t join to go to parades, stand at attention in the street, in the rain, in the cold at some guy’s funeral who they didn’t even know. They didn’t join to clean the trucks, equipment or the stations, do fire prevention, promote or recruit new members, be on any committee, put on dinners or BBQs, sell raffle tickets, help at carnivals, field days, open house or do any fund raising. They do like to spend the departments and the taxpayers money on the most expensive model of any equipment they can find. They usually want TWO in case the first one doesn’t work. I mean how many thermal imaging cameras do you really need?
    The requirements for these new firefighters have sky rocketed. Everyone has to be trained to the “specialist”, “expert”, “technician” or “Special Operations” level before they dare or are allowed to respond to that dumpster or weeds fire. They must take FEMA’s NIMS 100 thru 900 which they will never understand or have any occasion to use. Don’t forget the sexual harassment, diversity and the “don’t molest the Explorer Scouts” training requirements also.
    WHY WON”T THEY RIDE THE AMBULANCE? To go on an EMS call they have to be a certified brain specialist. Knowing how to treat for shock, stop the bleeding or use an AED with CPR just does not cut it anymore. Call 911 and get ready for the “interrogation” of your life. If you call on a hard wire phone they have your location and now can confirm your name. What is the problem? Do you know how to do CPR? Stop the bleeding? Deliver a baby? Do brain surgery? Are you having trouble breathing? Is your pet confined? Are you having trouble breathing? Do you have a heart problem now or EVER? ARE YOU HAVING TROUBLE BREATHING?
    What is your sperm count? Do you have restless leg syndrome? and many other questions that are too numerous to list! This will take about 2.5 to 3 minutes then they send the info over to the EMS dispatcher. Then the tones go off! Now they bang you out every 15 seconds and want YOU to make up for all that lost time. They send a Paramedic on almost every call anyways, someone stubs their toe somehow they turn it into an ALS call because the patient’s heart skipped a beat 35 years ago. The “patient” has an ass ache for 37 years and decides at 2 am during a blizzard would be a great time to go to the ER. ALS shows up and dicks around with the “patient” for 20 minutes then decides we should go the ER. The other extreme – the “patient” walks out to the rig and stated they need a “ride” to the ER. Cabs cost money $$$ you know. “Someone” will pay for the ambulance ride. Now at the ER you stand around waiting for someone to triage the patient and then find a non-existent bed. This 2.5 hours that you will never get back. On car wrecks we move the patients all over the place getting a collar on and then on a back board and if they didn’t have neck and back pain they will have by the time you get to the ER. Then the ER staff (who has x-ray vision I guess) rolls them off the board. Don’t forget to Collar, KED & Backboard anyone who even witnessed this carnage – protocols you know! OH WAIT the new deal – Don’t Backboard anyone anymore? Yes, in some cases we have been doing it wrong for 40 years!
    The PCR which was a PRE-HOSPITAL CARE report and gave the triage nurse some info on what happen in the last 30 minutes is now a PATIENT CARE REPORT – you have 2 hours to get the info to the ER by then the patient is discharged, walked out or is dead.
    Now you attempt do the “EMS Chart” that takes between 30 and 45 minutes if you can figure it out. The system (States & Feds) keep wanting more and more information so in 2 or 3 years they can figure out that you had an epidemic in your area. It will only except TRAUMA as a condition or reason for dispatch even if there was no patient at the “check & advise” MVA. Then it is Q/A by someone who never reads the comments and wants to know why you didn’t collar & board the victim – maybe because he had his wreck 2 weeks ago. You then also find out that you did everything else wrong on the call anyway.
    WHO ARE YOU DEALING WITH? The elder leadership and older members expectations of these new people has not changed, but leaders of today are going to have to change to deal with the “new breed” as we calls them. They are different than anyone who has come before. The “Y”, “X” and “me” generation. (Why are we doing it that way?) (Where is my X-Box?) (What is in it for ME?) Most of the “elders” think the present officers spend way too much time trying to make these people happy, which is impossible.
    The elders wonder why some of these new people are even joining. They don’t seem to have the time or commitment required. Many can’t get through the basic FF training because of the poor physical shape they are in.
    Many County & State instructor report a lack of basic common sense. Some can’t pour water out of a boot, have no clue how a hydrant works or how to use any of the other equipment they may have to use.
    WHATS WRONG WITH MY OUTFIT? When some of these newer people are asked “what is wrong with your FD” many say “poor leadership”. When asked what they mean they say: “the leaders yell at them, order them to do things, expect them to have some idea where the equipment is on the rig, want things done right and in a timely manner, want the rig and other things cleaned up and put back so it will be ready for the next call”.
    They complain that the “drills” where they have to remove the cot from the ambulance, set up the stair chair, hook up to hydrants or pull lines are a waste of their valuable time. (At the next call they can’t do any of those things and bitch that “no one showed them how”). If they can’t find it on their “hand held device” they are screwed! They complain that the “elders” don’t listen to them about how they would have done the task.
    They want to have a “committee meeting” at every call to figure out what they are going to do and how to do it. On the 20 year guys 500th extrication he really didn’t care what the new guy thought of the operation.
    HOW DO YOU GET THE CHIEF JOB? Years ago they were the most active people and had years of experience with many real fires under their belt. These were the same people that worked on the equipment till the middle of the night so it could be used on the next call. They also were present at everything that was going on at the fire house. In many cases that not true anymore. Some outfits have a 6 year cycle, Asst. for 2, Deputy Chief for 2 and then Chief for 2. They have not fought 10 fires and then they are out. That way everyone who wants to gets to be chief and get to drive the SUV all over the country. Less than ½ the members show up to vote for these officers and really don’t care because they are the same ones that don’t come around any way except for the clambake, annual banquet and any other dinner. (Knife & Forkers)

    • , Robert have you ever heard of burnout I think you be on burnout ice cream you’re ready to go postal on somebody it’s time for you to retire all the things that you complain about in your article is in every fire department across the country the bigger the city the worse it is you not the only one who deals with the nonsense of the public and the wannabes of the new people but sometimes we need to know when it’s our time to get out and it’s your time they get out

    • , Robert have you ever heard of burnout I think your be on burnout I believe you’re ready to go postal on somebody it’s time for you to retire all the things that you complain about in your article is in every fire department across the country the bigger the city the worse it is you not the only one who deals with the nonsense of the public and the wannabes of the new people but sometimes we need to know when it’s our time to get out and it’s your time they get out

  7. Great article but I also see a broken system in some departments. The system that is broken is the brotherhood code. Teams have become individuals through the ranks, and instead of becoming fireman and carrying the job for what it truelly is like traditions and a job well done as a team, it has become an item of what can it do for me, instead of what can I do for the fire department and brotherhood. It begins in some departments with lazy senior firefighters and officers who want to speak of example, but do not follow it. Certainly agree that a member who puts his or her time in has earned certain perks, but sloppy uniforms and openly not following the rules, is a morale killer and hard to follow. I always respected the senior firefighters to me, but I kept a watchful eye for the two faced, the lazy, or the ones who generate negativity. Rookie firefighters come on the job young and wanting fast recognition but also very hungry to learn. However, 1 or 2 fires and they are instant made fireman, not all are like this, but the ones who are, are easy to spot.. One aspect I see now more then ever in my 15 years in both the volley and career ranks is more self-recognition, less heart. I constantly say, give me someone who loves the job for what it really is, over someone who may look and speak like a great fireman. Generally, the one with heart will have a brother or sisters back becuase he loves the job for what is really is. Not glory, not popularity, or self-richousness. The one with heart and a love for the job for what it truelly is, works harder and always does the extra..becuase he has the true love for the job. He may make a mistake, but he strives to become better, learns his or her craft. Heart leads his or her drive to learn and become better.

  8. (Volunteer Here)As someone who is 19 years old and new to the fire service, I have to agree with this article. I run with a very busy company that is surrounded by 5 Career stations before any other Volunteer stations. Although I grew up in a family were I did what I was told with no questions asked and answer “yes sir”. I also spent many weekends of my youth doing manual labor outside. It wasn’t until around high school that I moved more indoors and towards technology. I do find that many of my peers, not just in the fire service, don’t know how to start a lawn mower, or what the difference between 2-stroke or straight mix is. But when I first joined, I found myself relying on senior members to tell me to do something. One day an officer took me aside and told me that I needed to step up and do before I was told, not after. It’s not that we are just a bunch of arrogant little a-holes, it’s that we were raised differently, and were expected to do things in a way that we were not raised to do so. And I’m sure in 20 years I’ll be saying the same thing

  9. i’m 19 was diagnosed with sciatica when i was 14 but the doctors never found out what was causing it, i had an MRI scan, x-rays and blood tests but they just made me do physio gave me a packet of panadeine forte sent me home i was in pain and had to walk on crutches for 3 months, now its come back and i have constant pain in my bauskmc,cle twitches, random pains that feel like im getting stabbed in the ass by a cattle prod that last for about 10 seconds and can’t sleep for more than 3 hours (

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