I recently had the privilege of interviewing for a Fire Department I greatly admire and deeply respect. One of the main reasons that I feel so strongly about this organization, is my perception of the outstanding culture they've developed. Perception being reality, as I have been told, got me thinking about culture, and it's importance in the Fire Service.
Culture is a subject that is closely examined and thoroughly dissected in the Fire Service by instructors, speakers, cities, chiefs, and firefighters. Merriam-Webster defines culture as follows:
: the beliefs, customs, arts, etc., of a particular society, group, place, or time
Whether we are willing to admit it or not, each Fire Department in the United States has its own culture. A department’s culture can be driven by a great many things. Cities, chiefs, training, tradition, how busy we are, and a multitude of other factors are absorbed from day one by recruits that we hire and are carried forward as each new generation gets on our engines, goes out the door, and provides comfort and protection to lives and property in each of our communities. This is how we perpetuate the culture of each of our departments.
The real question becomes this: are we perpetuating the right culture? It is an important question to ask, as quite simply, the culture of our fire department has a direct impact on how we provide comfort and protection to our communities. Is our department somewhere people want to apply, work, and stay? Or are we training firefighters for other departments? Are we pushing current practices, as well as ourselves, during training, so that our firefighters are acting as safely and professionally as possible? Or are we doing things “the way we’ve always done them?” Are we participating in community outreach and public education so as to increase the visibility and positive messages of safety and prevention that our citizens come to expect? Or are our bay doors closed and the lights off so that we aren’t bothered until we’re needed for a “real emergency?” The list of questions goes on and on.
It’s gut-check time. What are you doing individually, as firefighters, to advance the right culture within your organization? It takes all of us. We make decisions every day that influence the way others see our departments, both from outside and within. People join the Fire Service to make a difference. Are we empowering them to do just that? We should be. What is all too often overlooked is that differences can be made whether or not you are responding to an emergency, and that not all differences that are made necessarily involve the public. After all, who hasn’t tossed a couple spare bucks into “the boot” to help a brother or sister in need?
The tradition of selfless service has been bred into the culture of the America’s firefighters. The manner by which we provide our service to the community is defined by the cultures of our individual Fire Departments. If you aren’t trying to constantly improve your department’s culture on the inside, then are we really providing the best service possible to our communities? Everyone deserves to be proud of the Fire Department they serve and the firefighters that serve alongside them, and everyone has the tools to do just that. We need make sure we are making the right cultural decisions each and every day for the members of our Fire Departments to be successful. Everywhere, U.S.A. can be "that department" where everyone wants to work.