Throughout your career there will undoubtedly be times when it’s hard to stay focused and on the top of your game. It’s easy to get complacent…too easy! Complacency starts out innocently enough; you’re tired, so you relax for a little while on the couch, and the couch feels sooo good…AND there’s a James Bond marathon on TV, so you consequently think to yourself…will it really matter if I take a day off? But complacency is cunning in its comfort; one day inevitably leads to another, and then another, and before you know it, you haven’t thrown a ladder or forced a door in over a month. Couple the effortlessness of complacency with the often-touted axiom that complacency is contagious, and it’s easy to understand why entire crews, shifts or even departments can be overwhelmed on a fireground. This happens at every firehouse, every day, across the fire service.
Where I work, we don’t catch a lot of fires…and we’re not alone; the majority of the fire service doesn’t respond to a lot of structural fires. Now “a lot” is a relative term, but most of us catch a handful or two a year, hardly enough to reach mastery. Although when the tones do drop, we’re expected, by our citizens, our chiefs and our crew to be as great at our job as the members of the FDNY or Detroit FD. The lack of working jobs can be frustrating; we all know this. No one among us wishes that someone’s house will catch fire tonight; but right or wrong, we often feel the need to be tested. Training and studying for a test that rarely comes can lead some to become apathetic to our craft, believing that their actions during their “down time” don’t matter. We have all seen numerous brothers and sisters that have an obvious lack of motivation for this craft: these are the brothers that spend more time napping or playing video games than studying; these are the sisters watching TV five minutes after truck checks are done; these are the Captains and Lieutenants that cancel training because it’s raining or snowing. Amotivation is regrettably becoming an epidemic across the fire service. A lack of motivation, when combined with its evil twin – complacency – can potentiate each other, and can lead to a recipe for disaster on the fireground.
Once (possibly twice…maybe even never) in your 30-year career you will be tested with the challenge to directly save another’s life. The actions that you take in as little as 30 seconds on the fireground will directly impact another’s life in the most primal, significant way possible, whether they will live or die. Will you be prepared? Will you possess the knowledge, skills and abilities to save their life? Will you know what to do, when to do it and how to do it without thinking, acting entirely on your training and instinct?
It's easy to answer yes to these questions; but in all honesty, how can someone possibly be ready for any contingency the fireground might through at them, especially when the dynamic, unpredictable nature of the fireground is compounded with the fact that fireground experience throughout most of the American fire service is getting harder to come by? The cruel truth is that we can't...but we have to try. We have to strive to constantly improve ourselves, but more importantly (and oftentimes much more difficult to achieve), we have to WANT to improve ourselves every single day.
“So wait a minute…are you saying that we need to prepare every day, for 30 years, for something that might take as little as 30 seconds, or might never even happen?”
Damn right I am! We have to aggressively fight complacency and amotivation like it’s the fire of our career...every single day. There is no denying that this job is demanding, strenuous and often thankless. No one ever told you that this job was going to be easy. But how does one have the motivation to work their hardest, every day, for an entire career?
Knowing that the actions that you take today, and every day, will impact someone’s life in such a powerful way is the best motivation in the world. On the fireground, one person can change the universe of another. Our actions, both on the fireground and during our “down time” DO matter. Sometimes it may be difficult to see the truth in this statement; especially when it’s been a while since your last job, but everything you do matters, just ask someone who survived a fire. What more motivation does someone need than knowing that they will be responsible for another’s life? Isn’t that the reason you’re a firefighter in the first place? Isn’t that also the reason that you’re reading this article right now? Don’t forget why you got onto the job in the first place…it might be the same reason that you get into this job now.
Now go get sweaty.