DO YOU WANT TO BE A “FIREMAN?”
By: D/O Chad Berg
Ladder co. 72
Snohomish County, WA
“Fireman?” Can we still use that term in the world of political correctness? You are probably telling yourself that we are all firefighters, and guess what? You’re right. But there are still firemen out there and better yet, there are still firemen coming up through the ranks. These firemen have nothing to do with being a man. This title does not recognize gender or race. In fact some of the firemen that I respect the most, are sisters.
Do you remember in the Academy your instructors were always chiming in about “Good Firemanship?” Well they weren’t referring to checking that coupling for a gasket, or tying off your halyard like it was painted on the rung. Being a Fireman is not something that you become when the Chief pins on your shiny new badge, and you don’t automatically earn it your first day off probation. Being a Fireman means honoring your job both on and off of the clock. It means striving to preserve and protect our heritage, and in being concerned on shaping the younger generation of firefighters whom will take your place when your last alarm is answered.
Honor this title, and strive to earn it. The following attributes make up a “Fireman.”
LOYALTY – Be loyal to your company, your station house, your shift, and to your department. With loyalty comes trust. When times get tough, remember who takes care of you and your family. “Back ‘em up!”
PRIDE – When asked, “Who is the best fire company around?” Make sure and tell them that it’s your company. But don’t forget to back it up.
BE HUMBLE – Be proud, but show humbleness during reward, and recognition. None of us are at “know it all” status. It’s easy to compliment those that don’t expect it.
BE AGGRESSIVE SAFELY – Get the job done quickly, and get the job done right. Be that guy/gal that every new kid wants to work with. More importantly, make sure that you and that kid go home at the end of the shift.
SEEK MORE – You must come to terms with the fact that you will always be playing catch up to the ever evolving fire service and the dangers that you will face in our ever changing world. “You will never complete your training.” Do not settle for the quarterly minimum requirements.
REAL BROTHER/SISTERHOOD – Understand that real brother/sisterhood is not about pay status, metro vs. rural, city vs. county, or even a specific window sticker. Care about the people that do the same job as you and experience the same hazards. These are the only people who really understand you and what your about. They are your fire service family.
SHARE KNOWLEDGE & EXPERIENCES – If some “Old Crusty” shows you an old trick on the last job or during a drill, don’t hoard it and pretend that it’s yours. Show everybody you know and pass on what you have learned. The next generation of firefighters is depending on it. When you do pass it on – make sure to give that “Old Crusty” credit.
RESPECT THE “SENIOR GUY/GAL” – Who is the senior firefighter in you station house or on your company? It might not be the most inspiring person, or the one with the best work ethic or attitude. One thing is for certain, and the fact is that that individual has been on the job longer than you and has experienced more. They may have more years on the job than you have alive! They may not always do things the right way, but when the alarm sounds…pay attention to how he/she gets things done and learn from their experience.
HOSPITALITY – “Who’s at the door?” If an out of town brother/sister stops by to take a photo or ask for a patch or T-shirt, what would you do? You need to make that brother/sister the king/queen for the moment. Make sure that all of the station members know of the visitor, and that everybody comes to introduce themselves. Offer them up a cup of coffee or a spot at the beanery table at the next meal. Make these folks remember why they came into this job in the first place. Most of all make sure that they leave with that patch or T-shirt that they came for.
When family members of a firefighter stop by, should we treat them the same as visiting firefighters? No, we should do more! Invite the family in, offer the kids a popsicle or ice cream, and show them the apparatus and the neat things around the station house. Offer the adults something to drink and most of all; talk up their firefighter family member like he/she is the best leatherhead in the department. Tell the kids how lucky you are to work with their Mom/Dad, Aunt/Uncle, or Grandpa/Grandma. How would you want your family to be treated when they stop by a firehouse and you’re not there?
SHARE YOUR MISTAKES – Though mistakes can be tough to admit let alone tell others about, that’s what makes a good leader. If you truly care about your brothers/sisters, don’t let them make the same mistakes that you’ve made. Both for the sake of safety and for the sake of the department’s reputation on the next similar scenario.
SUPPORT YOUR COMPANY OFFICER – If you want to work under a good company officer, he/she will need your help. Never indulge in gossip or downgrading of your CO whether on the job or just out for beers. Make sure to point out his/her qualities to others that do not normally work with them. Remember that they have a tough job and that they depend on leadership from the bottom up. Remember… “Take care of the company & the company takes care of you.” Refer to LOYALTY.
GO TO A FUNERAL OF A FALLEN BROTHER/SISTER THAT YOU DIDN’T KNOW – When a firefighter or Police Officer answers the final alarm in your neck of the woods…you should go. These folks have made the supreme sacrifice and they deserve the very least to have you dedicate a few hours to show your respect and appreciation. If you were to die in the line of duty, how many people would you want your spouse, kids, and parents to see coming to pay their respects? Help these families to remember that their firefighter or police officer was one of the best around.
IF THERE ARE 2 WAYS TO DO IT, THINK OF A 3RD – Always have another option to the routine plan. Prove them wrong when they say that there is no other way. If somebody shows you four different methods to chalk open a door…say thanks, and then show them a fifth and a sixth way.
DON’T LET YOUR DEPARTMENT’S SHORTFALLS BE AN EXCUSE FOR LACK OF TRAINING – “If my department isn’t paying me for it, then I’m not going!” Have you heard that one before? Yeah, he/she will show them. These folks are not willing to get better at their job unless they are on the clock or being paid overtime. Budget cuts are tough, but you must find alternate methods to receive your training. Be creative with ideas and don’t even be afraid to spend a little of your own money if need be. Consider it an investment in your career longevity. It’s a dangerous job; don’t blame somebody else for your stubbornness.
DON’T BE AN INBRED – This may sound funny, but it’s true. Get outside of your department and see what others are doing and how they are doing it. Many equipment purchases, PPE changes, apparatus specs, and training ideas in my department have been pulled from other departments from around the country. Ride along with other places and see how they get the same job done but maybe with a more efficient method. Take outside classes and get somebody else’s view on how it can be done. Always be willing to look at doing it better and more efficiently.
STAY PHYSICALLY FIT – Maintain your health, it’s the best tool in your toolbox. Your company is depending on you, and so is your family. Working out when on duty is not enough when you only work 7-10 days a month. You need to be keeping fit in your lifestyle at home, and no they will not reimburse you for that. Do it for you and do it for your brothers and sisters.
ALWAYS, ALWAYS GIVE YOUR BROTHER/SISTER THE BENEFIT OF THE DOUBT – It could be the latest station gossip, an unfolding story in the media, or just your own inclination, but until you know for sure, give him/her the benefit of the doubt. You know what kind of people that you work with and what they stand for as people within our society. They share many of the same attributes and values as you yourself. Remember that these folks are your family and they deserve your support and backing when things are getting ugly. You work with great people who do great things. Give them what they deserve.
DON’T FORGET WHERE YOU CAME FROM – When you get to be that “Old Crusty” and you’re feeling like you got a pretty good grasp on the fire service, what are you going to do when you see that new kid come through the door who looks younger than your bunker boots? Are you going to tease him about being a young green proby and continue to push at his buttons and make him respect you for your years of distinguished service and then leave him alone to dive head first into a Godzilla sized “Super Proby Book” and a stack of IFSTA manuals?……………….No!
You are going to tease him about being a young green proby, and you will proceed to tell him that your bunker boots are older than him. Soon after, you’ll pour him a cup of coffee, help him find a locker, and then show him around the place. At dinner, you’re going to tell him about your first big job as a new proby and a few other inflated war stories. In the following weeks and months of his probation, you’ll tell him about the mistakes that you made throughout your career and how to avoid them. You will take the time on the next alarm to show him an old trick that an “Old Crusty” showed you thirty years ago. You’ll have the responsibility to give this kid the tools and show him what the fire service is about and how the job should be done. He will depend on you for this. It’s your chance to shape the future of the fire service and to leave your little legacy behind. You owe it to the fire service and you are going to give it back.
You’re a FIREMAN!
Chad Berg is currently a Driver/Operator with Snohomish County Fire District #7. He has over 19 years in the fire service. He holds certifications in Firefighter I and II, Instructor I, Washington State EMT, HAZMAT OPS, Incident Safety Officer, and Technical Rescue Technician. Chad serves as the Puget Sound FOOLS Chapter President.