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I looked at my original fire coat today. Copper rivets repaired broken clips and canvas patches covered cuts in the coat. Although it shows some wear and tear it certainly brings back some fond memories. I remember the pocket wedges, sprinkler stops, pliers, screw drivers and a pocket knife and in which pocket they were kept and why. I physically touched each tool every morning.

Back in the day Rookies like me were given a small sponge by the veterans and told to carry it in your coat pocket. If, for whatever reason, you found yourself in a smoke filled environment without good air you wet the sponge and put it into your mouth to filter air until you made it to a better place. A dry sponge didn’t filter well.

When I think back on the tricks of the trade that I learned, I often wonder why the veterans took their valuable time with me and why others were shunned. I hope it was because the veterans could see that I cared, I wanted to learn the job and I wanted to belong and to become a trusted member of the team. I hope they felt my respect and that they saw some of themselves in me.

The generation of today is really not that much different than mine, in spite of what we hear and read. The veterans complain that they can’t handle big rigs, they lack a passion and love of the service, they were never taught manners and respect, they lack common sense, can’t pour water from a boot, and woe be on the fire service of tomorrow. I do not subscribe and I refuse to brand them all that way. The same things were said about my generation also.

Each person entering the fire service is naturally different because they come from different places. Their upbringing, their families, their life influences are different. Some played team sports and others did not. Some worked with their hands and others did not. We are the melting pot.

A career is a series of impressions. It begins in the hiring process and continues through a never ending series of first impressions, no matter your field, until you retire. In the fire service it is our first day in recruit school, our first day in our first station, our first call, our first time driving the rig, our first fire, our first save and it continues.

My grandfather once described a know it all man by saying that “Nothing from nothing is nothing.”

 I would say “His sponge is too dry.”

Joining an established team does not make us a team mate. Our outcome on the team and our role in the team success depends on our input and what we do to make us a team mate and to make the team better.  Belonging to a new team is not about conforming or selling out, settling in, or settling for something less than what we believe in. It’s about our attitude, how we blend, our presentation, our balance, our team play, it’s about our sponge.

Why do we hang pictures of our past crews, our past fires, our former rigs, our unit citations and unit awards in our offices and firehouses? Why do I recall, after thirty-nine years, the impressive number of members from my first station who placed on the citywide promotional exam? It is because we always see the teams we played for as our team, our first coat, our first helmet, our first sponge and we care about what our team will be when we are gone.

Veterans will help young ones who wet their sponge.

If you know it all before you get to the team, remember that nothing from nothing is nothing.

You have two ears and one mouth, practice breathing with the sponge, and listen.

Touch your pocket tools and all work tools daily, they depend on you and you on them.

What you take in and what you absorb depends upon the condition of your sponge.

Sponges are cheap, purchase the amount that you need.

Replace sponges throughout a career, sponges don’t care about time, position or rank.

If your team isn’t teaming with you, don’t look at their sponge, look at yours it may be too dry.

How is your generation? Your presentation? Your Balance?

Your next step is a first impression – wet your sponge.


Thanks for reading.

Have a great day – it’s a GREAT day for it.

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