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Jason Hoevelmann presenting "A Firefighter's Own Worst Enemy" at FDIC 2012

A Firefighter’s Own Worst Enemy: A Synopsis

When I created this class it was in response to my own attitudes and behaviors that I had developed over a period of time. During those 18 months of “darkness” I allowed outside influences to dictate my perception of the fire service, what my job is and should be and the direction of my future. Luckily, I had other influences around me that recognized I was drifting and helped to set me back on course.

After I was re-calibrated I realized that most of my problems were of my own doing. I was allowing other’s attitudes and perceptions to affect my own. It was easy for me to buy in to the negative influences because that was popular. It is always easy to swim with the current in that regard. Instead of standing up for what I truly believed in I allowed my values and principles to be altered by the peer pressure to act and react in an appropriate manner.

When asked what my class is about, I struggle sometimes to fully explain it to others. It isn’t just about peer pressure or about keeping a positive attitude. It’s about more than getting up out of the chair and working out and training. It is about more than being a positive example to others and to not fall into the easy way out.

This topic is not a typical firefighter related class. We cannot deny that our egos and perception of what a firefighter is does not include introspection on our thoughts and attitudes and how they can affect our team. In that regard just teaching this class is sometimes a challenge knowing that many will not “get it.”

My first career firefighter job was in a small suburban department in St. Louis County. There was a battalion chief there who was an old Navy guy and had an old timer attitude but understood very well that the fire service had to progress and was a supporter of training, physical fitness and higher education. He was also an old farmer who always had a saying or euphemism for just about every occasion. As a young firefighter I didn’t truly understand those sayings nor did I try to attach them to any real meaning.

One of his favorite sayings was that “a firefighter is his own worst enemy.” He would say this frequently and I never really put too much thought into it until many years later after I had moved on to a different department. He never elaborated and never really preached, he just threw out these little nuggets of advice and would go about his business. Well, it finally struck me what he was trying to say.

In just about every aspect of our job we create our attitude. That attitude will dictate our course in the fire service. Those that have an attitude that the only PR we need is running calls will have to live with the results of that attitude. For those that refuse to train and do not place any emphasis on continued improvement in our skills and tactics will be forced to live with the results of those attitudes. The problem is that these individual attitudes not only have a direct impact on them, but also on those they work with and the organization.
We have to understand that our actions, behaviors and attitudes do affect more than just ourselves on a personal level. This is probably the most difficult thing to get firefighters to understand. If a guy doesn’t want to train and is not made to train, he will be inefficient and will then be the weakest link of the team. If one or more members of the team are grossly out of shape and can’t perform, then they become a liability to the team if things go bad or they go down in a fire. Your health is not only your business, it can directly affect those you work with.

Being part of the fire service is not the same as the majority of other jobs. The plumber that fixes the pipes will probably not contribute to the loss of his own life or others if he screws something up. Could there be some water damage and cost him some money? Sure! But nobody is going to die because of his lack of training or commitment to his profession. (Nothing against plumbers.)

The fire service does not have that luxury. It is cliche and to some the extreme, but if we screw up, our citizens we swore to protect, our Brother and Sister firefighters and/or ourselves may not live to see the next day. This is a fact and is one we must wrap our heads around. We need to understand that not only does every action have a reaction, but every inaction has a reaction as well and typically it’s not positive.

A lack of fitness can and will result in health problems and poor performance leading to the rest of the team having to pick up the slack; which we are good at. A lack of training will result in inadequate skills and the completion of sound tactics which, again, will put others at risk. These are real game changers and during the class we discuss some hypothetical situations where we show how this can happen.

Finally, we pass on to others what we display. If the prevailing attitude is one of working hard to get out of work then that will be what the rookie firefighter becomes. He doesn’t know any better and the circle remains unbroken. We have to break that circle and create a new environment. There is no easy way to change the culture of a company much less an entire department.

We owe it to ourselves, the citizens we protect, our fellow firefighters and our families to be the best we can be. I had a senior firefighter who has coached his kid’s athletics for years tell me we don’t need to train because we “know what to do.” I asked him how many times a week he had practice for his teams? He stated two to three times a week. I then asked if he did the same drills and concentrated on the same basic skills at every practice? The answer was “yes.” Did he make his team run or were they allowed to walk during the practices and scrimmages? Of course they had to run to build endurance and get in “game” shape. Then I asked how we were any different from those teams? Well, you can probably guess what he said……”That is different.”

That’s right, it is different. That team may lose a game if they don’t practice. We may lose a firefighter, a citizen, a building or a block of buildings if we don’t practice. It’s time to be different. It’s time to not cave into negative peer pressure and to create our own positive peer pressure that makes it “wrong” to be on the side of “inaction.” It’s time we hold what we do and love to a high standard and expect the best of ourselves and of those around us. Do the job and do it better than well. Encourage others with our actions and show the next generation what being a firefighter is about. Don’t let them be their own worst enemy.

Join me at FDIC 2012 on Friday @ 8:30 for “A Firefighter’s Own Worst Enemy.”
Room 103-104

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