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I just finished a post on my page that is directly related to Chief Halton's latest Editorial article in Fire Engineering. It really struck at my heart. I work at University Fire Department in Fairbanks, Alaska. We are a campus department, that serves the surrounding area, and receives 70% of its funding from the local taxpayers. Our students are paid firefighters and must maintain a 2.0 minimum grade (not easy for the fire minded types) and have to pull a regular duty shift. As long as they stay in school, they can keep their job. This department grew out of a volunteer student department created in the early 1960's when the local area needed help with fire protection. The department now protects the Western half of the Fairbanks suburban area. Young people are our bread and butter. Each generation has brought something different to this little department. Our alumni serve in just about every department in Alaska, not to mention Seattle, Tualatin Valley, Pheonix, South Bend Indiana, Yreka, Ca, and many more, including our pride and joy, one of the young men on Ladder 108, FDNY.

We thrive on young people. But we didn't write the book. We all need to keep learning. What I want to discuss is the types of behaviors on your part, that have produced positive results from this new generation. I want to be open minded and compare my methodology say, to others and look for holes in my laundry, so to speak. Maybe you have something I haven't thought of, a way of relating, a way of rewarding, or maybe we can just encourage those who are frustrated with the apparent wall of apathy these people seem to possess.

Personally, I have devoted my career to them, for better or worse. I believe that they will respond to me, in whatever way I present myself. As a former U.S. Marine, I tend to come on strong and scare the crap out of them first, then build them up with a lot of encouragement and can do attitude. But the best moments are when they've let you down, and instead of belittling them, chewing them up or spitting them out, you quietly correct, let them see your disappointment, then show them grace and give them the expectation of getting it right next time. These people want to be thought well of just like anyone else. But they have been raised differently, with a different set of morals and examples. You have to show them what you want by being it yourself first.

So, wha'dya got for me?

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Replies to This Discussion

I'm from a combination department with 47 firefighters. 18 of those 47 are under the age of 25 with less than 5 years experience. We have a large age gap. The toughest part about "the gap" is it requires both the senior Officers and the younger generation to understand where they're coming from.

For the sake of this discussion, "it" will be firefighter/rescue skills, station duties, emergency ops, etc.

The Officers and senior firefighters were taught not to ask questions and "Do it because I said so."
The younger firefighters have been raised, by popular culture and education, to ask "Why should I do it?"

Both have to compromise.

Senior folks, when the time is right, lead the younger generation by giving the directions with a quick "Because..." (obviously there's not always time to answer the "why"). Try to give them the "big picture," if and when appropriate. Remember they're visual learners.

Younger folks, trust in the leadership and direction of the seniors. Understand that you're questioning, although valid, may need to wait. Trust they've been there done that! If you learned something new, do your homework, and bring the idea to your Officer. Train on it together and discuss why it is or isn't a good idea. Choose your words wisely so you don't come across as arrogant, ignorant, or offensive.

Lastly, if you want to reach the next generation, meet them where they are. They may be at the firehouse but they're on Facebook, YouTube, i-phones, and X-box. Senior Officers, send them links to articles on Facebook, put training videos on YouTube (preferably with them in it), and teach them about the value of rest, relaxation, and entertainment, while informing them there's a time and place for it.

I'm a 29 year old Driver/Operator who's trying to bridge the gap.
Awesome response, Brother.

That is exactly the kind of input I'm hunting for. Its easy to sit back and say that the new kids are all screwed up and they only care about their toys, but it takes more insight as you have shown to find a way past those traits in order to see some success.

One thing I tried was to sit down with them after hours and play a few rounds of X-Box. Felt like an idiot, didn't play well, but it gave them some common ground to stand on with me and helped them to realize that I can relax and be a real person with them.

Here is the thing, we have to pass on our traditions, our work ethic, our pride. There needs to be a willingness to compromise as you pointed out, or we will get nowhere.

Thanks for your comments. I really appreciate them and good luck with bridging the gap!

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