As firefighters in suburbia, we now live in a world of EMS incidents, fire prevention, and busy work. At times, it can be disheartening to those of us who live vicariously through the lives of the big city guys. We dream of days spent in bunker gear, getting dirty, and going to fires. :: Station alert tones sounding :: “Respond for an illness…” Instead, we run shifts on the medic unit.
I work for a department that protects a city and township of around 60,000 residents, 32 square miles, and approximately $1.65 billion in property value (surpassing the regional urban city). We run a combination department utilizing full time, part time, and volunteers. This means that a majority of our full time personnel are necessary to keep ALS medic units in service and responding with highly trained and experienced paramedics. A lot of our time is spent completing station duties, running EMS calls, providing public education, and drilling on the same things, over-and-over, for those who choose not to learn it the first time.
This is the reality of a good portion of the fire service today. We live the life of balance between urban and rural firefighting. We are responding to multiple EMS alarms, fire alarms, and calls for service every day, they just aren’t working fires.
What type of public safety career is this? Does this mean that we cannot be excellent firefighters and fire officers? Does this mean that we will never be placed into “big city” incidents and our residents shouldn’t expect aggressive “big city” job performance?
For many suburban firefighters, it is a constant uphill battle to remain combat ready. We must fight against complacency. We must fight against those who believe fire inspections, station duties, and chasing EMS calls are the markers of our abilities and are our bread-and-butter. Don’t get me wrong, these are all important functions and are a large portion of the excellent service we provide to our communities, but we should not forget that every day we are one day closer to our next fire. One day closer to making decisions that could cost lives and place us at great risk for injury. One day away from making that grab.
Suburban firefighters must expend significant effort to keep educated at the highest level. Read the trade magazines, attend HANDS-ON trainings, listen and play through scenarios in our minds, and always expect that today is the day. We must check equipment with the mindset that someone’s life could depend on it today, because it could. We must learn building construction, aggressive and up-to-date tactics, and how to get dirty. We must not let the “safety mentality” push us from smart aggressive interior firefighting. Just because we don’t run with 4, 5, and 6 person engine companies does not mean we cannot be smart, keep where the building features will help protect us, and stretch the line between the fire and those we swore to protect. We must continue to “get dirty” and swim against the current to become good firefighters. Our citizens deserve that.
Another important duty is to become a mentor. Walk-the-walk. We must become leaders and show our newer members the way of the warrior. We must take newer members under our wing and teach them. One of the best things I have been taught, “You want me to be safe? Teach me how to be a good firefighter. Teach me how to do my job!” How can you not love that mentality? Teach me to be aggressive. Teach me to stay safe, not by shielding me, not by telling me it’s “too unsafe” and the “survivability profile” always points to exterior firefighting, but by teaching me the job. As senior members, this is our responsibility. When we allow marginal performance, subpar job knowledge, and laziness to overtake those around us, we are failing. We work in teams and we are only as strong as the new member spending time on the phone in the dayroom.
The point of this article is to give support to those warriors, the Rogues, those who work in suburbia and are tired of hearing “we are not FDNY!” We must keep up this fight. We must get back to the old school mentality that we are here to protect our citizens and community. We must understand that we are responsible to steer our department back to aggressive action. The safety of our COMMUNITY is what is important, not being friends with everyone, and certainly not what is going get us promoted. We must stand up and show consistency in the protection of the community, what is best for us is down the list.
Be the firefighter or be the boss that you looked up to! Pay it forward. Our communities deserve better.