For most of us in the fire service this job is a calling. It’s not something we do, it’s something we are, [insert additional corny saying here]. The bottom line is that we have dedicated ourselves to this profession for whatever reason and agreed to the responsibilities of our job; to help those who require our services in their time of need.
But some, including myself, have at one point lost sight of why we do the job. To some, it turns into a paycheck, for others it just becomes a job and nothing more. Most of us have been there at one time or another. Waking up to go into work, crawling out of bed at 3am because the pager just went off, or getting ready to attend training and wondering to ourselves, why?
When I decided that I was going to spend the rest of my life being a Firefighter/Paramedic I never thought I would lose any of my ambitions. I was the go-to guy, spending all of my free time at the station doing odd jobs, making sure the trucks were washed, waxed, and ready to go, never missing a training or call if I was available and making the station look pristine. Then, one day I woke up and wondered why?. Why am I giving up all of my time reading, learning, teaching, so on and so forth? What difference does it make?
The problem came from a number of things including personal issues, professional hardships, and the feeling that there was no upward mobility for me. I had lost my faith and my dedication was gone. When I walked into the station and noticed that someone had left a truck dirty, I left it. When I saw a new firefighter looking awkwardly at a piece of equipment, I restrained myself from giving them the 100 year history of how that tool came to be and what its purpose was. I came in, I did my work, and I went home.
My wife Katie who is a kindergarten teacher, watched for months as I struggled with the fact that I was lost. One day after returning from a call and throwing my keys and radio on the table she told me, “We need to talk”. As I listened to the beginning of her commentary about the things that she had been noticing I realized how bad it truly was. “You used to spend hours every night looking up tactics and fire stuff on the internet and in books, you used to help the new firefighters study for their exams and you always seemed so excited when a big call came in, and now you don’t do any of those things” she said.
She explained that in her profession, teachers lose their faith too. She talked about a time when, for three days in a row, one of her boy was having temper tantrums, another girl wouldn’t pay attention and for the first time ever, she wondered, “Why keep doing what I’m doing”? She had lost her faith. She then explained that within a few days her class was great and not one child acted up, they all listened, and to top it off she had a child who finally figured out that words are spelled from left to right! Even though she had only lost her faith for a short time she realized at that moment why she worked so hard to teach the children in her class.
After a few laughs about kindergarten antics, I realized that a lot of the same things apply to us in the fire service. When we are having a bad day, our customer’s day is worse. Whether it’s personal, professional, or somewhere in between, we need to be there for the people who need us, our brothers and sisters, and those who we serve.
She predicted that there would come a time when I would realize why I needed to keep my faith. Why I needed to keep learning and be the go-to guy. The talk with my wife was echoed by similar conversations with close friends in the fire service. Everyone said the same thing, “You’ve lost it and you need to get it back”.
I slowly got back into the game. I took the time to explain things to the new firefighters, continuing to read about tactics, and becoming the go-to guy again.
A few months later we were dispatched on a working fire. We arrived to find a large single story family dwelling, fully involved. As we went to work and I watched the organized chaotic symphony from the pump panel, I felt a surge of enthusiasm. This is why I had spent all of my time reading, learning, teaching, and so on and so forth. As a crew was attacking the fire on the Alpha side I noticed cracking mortar and step-offs in the bricks. Command was on the Charlie side and had not seen the wall so I advised the crew over the radio to move and minutes later the wall came crashing down. That was the moment when it all made sense.
Just as my wife had predicted, there came a time when I would realize why I work so hard to become better tomorrow than I am today and help others do the same. By keeping the faith and continuing to learn and excel at my job, I was able to get a truck safely to the scene, get water to the crew, and keep them safe. As a firefighter, there is no better feeling than accomplishing your mission because you were able to do your job, and do it correctly.
Since that time I have realized that I don’t want to lose my faith again. I have come to the conclusion that this is one of the evolutionary stages in a firefighter’s career and it is meant to make us become better firefighters. Without it, we lose sight of why we truly want to stay in the job.
So I leave you with this; if you are in the place that I was, get out of it. Take the time to re-evaluate your goals and make the best out of every opportunity. Trust that your brothers, your sisters, and the people who you serve need you. Never stop learning and never stop challenging yourself to become better tomorrow than you are today. If you see another firefighter in the same boat, talk to them. Find out what the situation is and if you can help get them back on track, then do. If we can keep the faith, we can accomplish our mission however large it may be.