Here is something that a Senior Firefighter sent to a group of up and coming new hires. Enjoy.
Being the new guy has its place and if you are truly green and have never touched a piece of hose before, it's time to keep your head down, eyes up and ears perked for any and every bit of information that comes your way. Be a sponge. There will be plenty of information and it could be quite a rollercoaster ride for a while. That being said you also need to take note of what you’re hearing so you can ask why later. It’s important to ask why, because if you don’t you’ll just become another minion like I have seen others become in the fire service, “because that’s how we have always done it”.
Be careful with “the experienced guy(s)”. There are a couple of kinds of experience in my eyes; first there’s the guy that has 15-20 years of “service”, second there is the guy with 15-20 years of “experience”. Both are commendable but are very different career paths. Guys that have been “in the service” are the guys usually resistant to change without any real reason, perhaps playing Devil's Advocate. For the most part they are RIP (retired in place). They have been doing it one way for their entire career for no other reasons than “that is the way they do it” and “it has always worked in the past”. They were never given the opportunity, or never had the audacity, as a firefighter to ask why and became another minion. The guys with 15-20 years of “experience” are the guys that embrace and lead change and reinforce why other things do not change. The look will support change, knowledge, new training. Not blindly, but show me the why and how it’s beneficial. They are the leaders that want everyone to do their jobs safer and more efficiently. They want to know how to be more effective and successful with every call they run. They learn from their mistakes and move on with that knowledge locked away in their tool box. They want to “know their craft”, as one of my BC’s puts it and part of that is seeking new knowledge and trying new things. If it doesn’t work in training then you gave it your best effort to understand and support it. You communicate why it does not support the mission and be ready for the next opportunity when it presents itself.
Where would we be today without the SCBA? If we were totally complacent with running into burning buildings without an SCBA these days, our life expectancy would not be very long. Things change! We are all aware, or should be aware, of the dangers that present us with modern day construction, vs. early construction. Smoke today is very different from the smoke that was encountered years ago. Someone had quite a battle to show us what we were doing was wrong and there was a better way of doing things, more effective, safer and healthier. If we become complacent with what we have done in the past because “it isn’t broke” we are setting ourselves up for failure. Don’t get me wrong there are times when things are the exception rather than the rule but often there is a reason we have been presented with the opportunity to try something new and we should not pass it off as “voodoo”. People will say that s*** happens. Well I dare you to take the approach of s*** better not happen!
All of this rambling is not pointed at any one single person or group, it is merely my point of view and what I have witnessed and experienced over my years in the fire service. It is just something to think about and maybe ask yourself “what kind of firefighter do I want to be?” or “what kind of officer/leader do I want to be?” I would like to challenge everyone to make your career long, healthy and successful. From the “new guy” to the “old guy”, whether you have 30 years or your first day is today, ask why never be afraid to ask why. Never stop learning and train to be more effective, not just to roll through the motions because it’s what you have always done. Be a mentor! You are training our future brothers and sisters; give them the tools to be successful. Teach them what you know and why you know it. Back it up! Being a mentor does not always mean teaching the new guys, it’s a two way street, learn from them as well. Be open to suggestions and you may be surprised. There are no experts in the fire service. There is no way to "know it all" all of the time. Change happens too quickly and if you're feeling confident you need to take a look around before you're brought back to reality and someone gets hurt or killed. We are professionals and we need to act like it. Don’t you EVER make our customers sorry they called us!
Remember this job can get real, real quick!
Engine Company Officer