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Some would say it is a fine line between being an aggressive firefighter and being a reckless one. While that may have some truth to it, I feel that the main difference between the two is knowledge. Knowledge gained through education, experience and judgment.

Education is the first one I will address because it has to come first. We don’t send untrained people out to fight fires, we educate them first. Of course this is done to varying degrees throughout the fire service, whether it is mandated by the state or by the department. Education is something that we do first and should continue to do without stopping, as long as we pull on a coat and put a helmet on and go to work. It should not matter what color the helmet is, or what your title is, if you are active in the fire service, you should continue to learn. A fantastic example of that is a great firefighter on my department. K.C.  has been in the fire service for over 40 years and is taking classes still today!

Experience. A lot is made of experience, and rightly so. Experience teaches us the hard way what not to do, and how to do it right. It can be from making mistakes or getting it right ourselves, or seeing others do it. Long years of experience can make you a better and smarter firefighter. But, is it 20 years of experience or 2 years of experience repeated 10 times? What I mean is, if the level of the things you are experiencing are basic, and that is all you see for 20 years, how valuable is that experience?

Judgment is the hardest to define of all of these. The dictionary says;

Judgement (or judgment)[1] is the evaluation of evidence to make a decision.[2][3][4] The term has four distinct uses:

  • Informal - opinions expressed as facts.
  • Informal and psychological – used in reference to the quality of cognitive faculties and adjudicational capabilities of particular individuals, typically called wisdom or discernment.

So, judgment in this case follows the second definition. How wise or discerning are you on the fireground? Where does this quality spring from? It is not something we are born with, it is something we learn through education and experience. Making the right decisions is what we all want to do on every call out, on every scene, for everyone we go out to serve.


It is all built upon education, and with the one constant being change, we must all strive to keep up with the new knowledge without forgetting what we have already learned. Experience means going to fires. If you are a volunteer, and you tend to pick and choose what calls to go on, you will miss a lot of experience. Some of it may seem mundane, like how the ductwork on top of the local foundry is assembled. Next time, that may be critical knowledge on a bigger event. If you are not there to learn from the experience, you have lost out. Judgment will come with time, education and patience.

When you put all of these qualities together, it enables you to be a knowledgeable, aggressive firefighter without being reckless. However, when you try to make do with only one or two of them, reckless is just one poor decision away.

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