I was recently at a dinner party with several of my wifeâ€™s co-workers (veterinarian pharmaceuticals). Several of the guys (all veterinarians) were standing outside and reminiscing about their days in vet school and early days in veterinary practice. The conversation between them got around to, â€œWould you encourage your kids to become veterinarians?â€ It was interesting to hear them say that most of their children had no interest in the subject. They also went on to say that with the rising costs of education, the relative low starting pay of veterinarians, and the various stressors and struggles of the job, that no they wouldnâ€™t really push their children to follow their career path.
Then, like at every social gathering, they turn to the firefighter. It seems like every similar event someone asks about recent incidents or â€˜have you seen anything bad recently?â€™ It is like we are the magician hired to entertain the guests between the social hour and dinner. Depending on your mood you can tell them about the recent cat stuck on the roof call or the intricate details of the guy found in the bathroom 3 weeks after he died.
This time though it was, â€œOf course you want your boys to be firefighters right?â€ Itâ€™s a safe assumption on their part. All they know is the romantic version of the fire service from TV and movies where like clockwork each male offspring joins the fire department generation after generation. Thatâ€™s how it is supposed to go right? In this instance I know I shocked them with my replyâ€¦.. â€œNot really.â€
Why is that? Clearly the fire service has been good to me. I am quickly approaching my 23rd year on the job. I have a nice roof over my head, I keep my kids clothed in the latest Under Armour gear, and I clearly have enough food to eat. So why wouldnâ€™t I want my children to follow in my footsteps? The same reason I donâ€™t necessarily want your kids to join the fire department either. My rational is that if you are going to enter public service you must do it with the desire to serve others first. It cannot be for the pay, the benefits, the days off so you can work another job, the retirement, t-shirts, the status in the community, or for all the notions of being a hero.
In my opinion the first act of a firefighter is to understand that the job is not about you. The job has been here for hundreds of years and will still be here long after you are gone. They must understand that the position of firefighter is a privilege. It is a privilege to help those in need. It is an honor to be the one called to help others when they donâ€™t know who else to call. If a young man or woman entered the job with any other mindset I think they will be sorely disappointed.
Look at some the new hires that have come to your organization. Can you name one that doesnâ€™t like to get dirty? Can you name one who complains about training because it is hot or it is cold? How about the one who gripes about â€˜another damn citizen assist callâ€™? Has no-one explained to these people what we do and why we are here? Did they not know this when they signed up? It really makes me question the training academy they completed before they even got to this point.
So here is my contribution to the issue; if my children, or anyone elseâ€™s children, do not grasp the concept of service to others then I do not want them in our fire service. My children are certainly not going to use my name or accomplishments to gain a leg up on some young man or woman who has dedicated themselves to learning the craft and believe in the values of sacrifice and duty. I tried to explain this the small group on the patio that afternoon. I got a few weird looks and I got a few head nods. I think it comes down to the old saying of, â€œif I have to explain it you just wouldnâ€™t understand.â€
How many firefighters do you know on the job today that do not grasp this? Who works with someone who does this job so they can do another job on the side? How about the one who took the job because they didnâ€™t like dealing with the public at their old job selling cars or working at Home Depot? What about one who went to the academy so they could quit the EMT job they had with a private ambulance and work for the fire department because they only run the â€œgoodâ€ EMS calls? I personally cannot stand hearing this crap.
We each took the job for different personal reasons, I understand that. The underlying reason though should be to help others. I feel it is our responsibility to mentor new members, and sometimes to remind veteran members, of what our mission is. I concede that our view of the mission can get pretty blurry with all the â€˜other thingsâ€™ that seem to get added to our plate but at our core is our desire to help others. That is what makes the fire service one of the noblest jobs, we sacrifice and we serve others.
Here is my call to action. Give those you work with currently a kick in the pants when they need it. Remind them that the â€œBS callâ€ interrupting their workout is a problem a citizen is asking us to solve for them. Yes, it may truly be a minor thing but to them it is a problem and we are in the problem solving business. And, when young impressionable men and women ask you about your job in the fire service, be honest with them. No, it is not like the movies or TV. No, not all women fall for firefighters (my apologies to all female firefighters). No, you will not get rich. Tell them that our job is still a blue collar job that requires manual labor and one where you can work in crappy conditions (hot/cold, wet, tired, bored). Yes you can get hurt and sometimes we do see bad things. But, the job is very rewarding in other ways. We do make a difference in our communities. We do have relationships with our co-workers that few get to experience. And after a 20 or 30 year career of serving others you can walk away, probably with a bad back and shoulders, and look back and say that your work truly mattered in this world.
Letâ€™s get this job back to what the generations of firefighters did before us to make it great. Be positive, give 100%, and serve others.