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Did you feel that this morning?

Don’t by coy.

The tones dropped and you didn’t make the call. Before the first truck could announce “in service”, you were already fabricating your excuse.

But, we know what’s going on, don’t we?

That adrenaline rush that once propelled us to “firefighter of the year” is only a gooey mess of poor descriptions of what is now poor performance.

There was a time not so long ago that you felt like your little village needed you; needed you so badly that you were willing to go out and purchase your own gear, including bag. You were going to carry your gear with you at all times, because you didn’t want to miss a call.

Besides that; you had the Bearcat Programmable Scanner Ultra that would alert you to the slightest activity within a three-state area. Quick disconnects allowed you to plug it in at home AND into your vehicle.

You would arrive a half-hour early for department meetings. You would go into the truck bays, open compartment doors and learn what equipment was in which truck.

You signed up for every training school and would bring a box of doughnuts to every one of them.

Car wrecks, alarm systems calls, field fires, fuel spills at the gas station and the rare, house fire and you were there at two in the morning or two in the afternoon; it didn’t matter.

When the rest of the department needed a push, you were pushing/pulling/cajoling those who weren’t like you.

“What’s the matter with them?” you would wonder to yourself.

Less than two years in, you are a lieutenant and training officer. You take the department from once-a-month training to once-a-week training that didn’t include truck checks and annual hose testing. Attendance at training is less than 50%.

“That is unacceptable” is what you would tell the chief.

When the department was hurting for funding, you chaired every committee. You spoke at the grade school for Fire Prevention.

YOU were the face of your local fire department.

And then, something happened!

Money got tight and the small stipend that you got for calls didn’t make up for lost wages that you weren’t paid by your company while on a call. Too much money was leaving the household budget for the newest gadget that you would buy off of the Internet or off the table at the last fire school. Money problems were now causing problems at home.

When your young son wanted you to teach him to ride a bicycle, you were too busy teaching firefighters how to manage their air. You thought that your son would understand when he got old enough to understand, but now that he IS older, the resentment has manifested itself in a rebellious adolescent. Mom would be the one riding in the car with him while he is on a drivers’ permit. After all; SHE taught him how to ride a bicycle.

You missed meals, holidays, birthday parties, sporting events, family milestones and when you weren’t missing them all together, you had to leave in the middle of them to make a call.

And your family unit continued to deteriorate. Then came her ultimatum and you thought briefly-ever so briefly-of leaving her.

Instead, you resentfully resigned your position as training officer, but your life was still out of whack.

You were getting poor performance reviews at work to the point that you feared leaving work for calls, so you didn’t; but, you worried that the department couldn’t mitigate the incident without you.

Others on the department were stepping up to fill your void; something that you were once so passionate about.

But, you had also become “one of those guys” that you forced off of the department during your hey days. “Dead weight” is what you had called them.

And now?

It’s 2:00 am; it’s below zero outside; the tones just dropped, so you jump out of bed, grab your pager and run into the bathroom so as not to disturb the wife and determine that there would be enough others responding, so you relieve yourself and go back to bed.

Whether you know it or not, you just quit.

If you don’t know it, the others do!

What are you going to do?

Leave with good memories or the bitterness of being asked to leave?

YOU know the answer.

TCSS.

The opinions and views expressed are those of the article’s author, Art Goodrich, who also writes as ChiefReason. They do not reflect the opinions and views of fireengineering.com, Fire Engineering Magazine, PennWell Corporation or my dog, Chopper.

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Comment by Tiger Schmittendorf on December 22, 2010 at 2:37pm

Bobby - I couldn't agree more that Art is a great storyteller.

Speaking of stories, I'd love for you to be my guest on my www.firefighterstorytellers.com Internet radio show to tell your story of what got you started and to where you are today - and what keeps you going at the pace you're at.

 

My next time slot is open for January 12, 2011 at 9pm EST. Let me know if you're interested. Thanks Brother!

 

Stay safe. Train often.

Merry Christmas!

Comment by Bobby Halton on December 21, 2010 at 4:38pm

Art,
This is a beautiful post, I think that from time to time we all have to recalibrate, we all have to reassess and we all need to re-energize. Sometimes it's a short break sometimes it's a new position sometimes it's just a clean break. That's different for everybody and the beautiful thing about the fire service is that it seems everybody has something they can add at almost every stage of their life and at every level of their passion.

I love the way you tell stories in your blogs, you have an amazing gift. I feel one of the reasons this blog was so important to me was that I find it disheartening when people disqualify other people because they don't think they have the same level of enthusiasm that they have. Everyone expresses themselves differently and that's okay. There are many ways to contribute and everyone of us at different times in our lives will be contributing to the best of our abilities as long as we remember that it's called the fire service for a reason.

Thank you once again for being such an important member of the fire engineering family, we are blessed to have you in this community and we are blessed to have you as a friend. Bobby

Comment by Mike France on December 21, 2010 at 10:31am

There are very Depts that have the Same Chief that i know of here. You are right

Comment by Art "Chief Reason" Goodrich on December 21, 2010 at 9:58am

Mike:

I have been involved in the fire service now for over 30 years and the passion is as strong as it has ever been. Sometimes, an emotional issue will arise that chips away at our passion, but it is more like a temporary setback to reaching the end of our mission.

I have been going on calls, attending meetings, attending training/fire schools, conferences, fundraisers; all in the name of our fire department and I have been blessed with some local notoriety because of it. I helped to revive a local firefighter association that thrives today.

For 9 years now, I have been sharing op-ed pieces with the fire service through my voice as ChiefReason. Now; I blog and also do a podcast on FirefighterNetcast every month.

What's funny is that, when I went from chief to trustee, I thought that I would have more "me" time. Quite the opposite. I have simply found that passion in other venues that satisfies those fires that we have inside of us.

I think we forget why we do this and who we do it for. I was questioning that not so long ago. But, thanks to my good friend here, I am excited again. Ask Bobby.

As an example of the forces that works for us in our jobs, let me offer you this; when I stepped down as chief to run for trustee, I threw the party. I did, because I wanted to thank all of the people who had worked for me or supported me and allow me the privilege of serving them as best I could. I didn't want them to throw me a party, because one guy on a fire department simply cannot do it alone. You have to be a willing participate in a system that isn't very flexible but is a system that requires extraordinary cooperation and teamwork.

Ask yourself this, Mike: how many departments do you know that still have the chief with the iron fist and how successful are they?

If there is any doubt, the answer to that question should clear it up.

There is an old saying; "I am willing to teach if you are willing to learn".

Thanks for the reply.

Comment by Mike France on December 21, 2010 at 9:10am

 Art - if it is the one constant thing i found , is that it's my family that allows me to keep my passion about this Job[ Not that i get paid] but my Wife has been the rock that has kept me going, I was able to find that making the time for both was important, the other day someone gave me some advise and what they said made sense, They told me that you need to let your Asst. Chief's run things and you oversee them and have trust in the people below you , And you know i have taken a step back and now that i was re elected i am applying this .

Althougt there are times that i feel i have lost the passion, someone always reminds why i do what i do.

 

Plue there is one factor to this is that there are people like you outthere willing to share knowledge with people like myself who are willing to ask for it.

 

Comment by Art "Chief Reason" Goodrich on December 20, 2010 at 5:00pm

Tiger:

Sometimes, it gets beyond an ability to re-prioritize.

We may have to re-invent.

I was at the top of my game when I stepped down as chief. The good news is that the fire department was also at the top of their game.

I merely took that passion and re-directed/re-packaged it into a fire commissioner's position.

And it has worked out rather well.

The blogging and the podcasting is just icing on the cake.

Comment by Tiger Schmittendorf on December 20, 2010 at 3:54pm

Brother Art -

 

As you know, I lost that passion for a while or simply invested my energy in other projects that warranted my attention. The good news is that it's slowing growing back, although I have less time available due to those other worthwhile community investments that I've since learned to be passionate about and enjoy so much.

 

You and I have talked at great length about the importance of achieving balance in our lives. It reminds me of my Top 10 Commandments for Recruitment and Retention -

#7. Peace at home = Peace at the firehouse. Make sure you're targeting the right audience with your recognition and incentives programs.

 

Your blog is timely and reminds me to revisit and repost this: http://tigerschmittendorf.com/2009/01/01/fixit/

  

Merry Christmas and a Very Happy New Year!

 

Stay safe. Train often.

Comment by Art "Chief Reason" Goodrich on December 20, 2010 at 8:54am

David:

Balance between your passion in life and your family life is a very delicate one. It takes an entire family to understand what really goes into someone's desire to help a community out. I encourage meeting with the family when a department receives a letter of intent from a citizen. We want expectations to be known so there is no disappointment later.

This year, we had a 20 year veteran resign. A firefighter, having completed his probation unsatisfactorily was not retained. Expectations in both cases were at odds. But, we learned long ago that the fire department, though it has great social interaction is NOT a social club. Nor is it a democracy.

When resentment builds from either side; trouble will certainly follow. And that is what we must work on to avoid.

Good luck.

Comment by David Mellen on December 19, 2010 at 9:35pm

Art,

 

Unfortunately, there are many reasons why the passions dies and more often than not they are preventable.  I work full-time and also two-hat on a rural department as well as a urban-rural interface department.  I work part time on one and provide a lot of training for the other.  Either way, I spend A LOT of time away from home.

 

My wife and I recently found out that she is pregnant with our first child and the discussion came up about the amount of time I spend at the station(s).  It was honestly one of the hardest conversations that I have ever had to endure!  Here is what WE came up with:  There are plenty of ways to stay motivated and dedicated to the fire service but you have to know your limitations.

 

Sadly, as you said, lot of people have the view that they "need" to be there for their department or it will not be able to function, they "have" to be on that call because there might be someone there who doesn't know what to do...the bottom line is that the department will still be there whether you are or not.  The best thing you can do is to help the others learn, be safe, and be proficient at the trade, the rest will take care of itself.

 

I hope for a future that involves both my family and the fire service but if it comes down to it, I would rather walk away and be able to stop by for the occasional cup of coffee at the kitchen table than to ruin what I have worked so hard to achieve.

 

Thanks for the article!

 

David

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