Do you remember your first day? Fresh out of drill school, your first shift? Walking in the bay, the smell of the tinge of diesel exhaust, the smell of the turnout gear in the lockers. The sudden realization that the controlled scenarios have now ended, the decisions you make may have very permanent results and that the danger is now even more real than ever before. The adrenaline, the fear, the excitement, the pride, the burning passion for the chance to do the job, do YOU remember? Your first call, smells-and-bells, a fire alarm, a chance to wear your turnout gear, the smile on your face because you got to ride the rig. House chores, friendly hazing, loading hose, rolling hose, unloading hose, repeat. Again, do you remember THAT feeling?
I sat down recently with a friend of mine, whom I've had the great fortune to mentor over the past few years, and saw go from a Junior Firefighter to recently being offered a career position with a neighboring organization and had a very eye-opening conversation with him. I realized in the past 7 years that I have changed from the new guy, who had such a fire and a passion to learn the job into a guy who was still proud, who still learns, but doesn't have the drive that he once had. I realized then and there, I lost my flame. Anyone who knows me knows that I am a fireman. From the pictures I post on social media, to my tattoos and even to the few things that I talk about, my life is fire. I attend every class possible and I take part in as much fire service related activities as I can physically muster, but in the end, I forgot about the rush, the pride, the excitement of simply putting on my uniform shirt every day. In what feels like a matter of days, I have served out nearly a quarter of my career (at least my first retirement), time has flown by and I didn't even realize the subtle changes that occurred.
The moment I realized this, I felt as if I had been punched in the gut. It made me realize that I was becoming what I dreaded most, slowly and subtly. I was becoming what many of my fellow firefighters have become husks of their former selves, guys who no longer loved the business and instead grew to resent or even hate it. I told myself from the day I walked in that door that I will NEVER be a firefighter that says "I can't wait till I retire, I'm sick of this job." I sat for hours and contemplated how I could restore my zeal and devotion to this art, as I've long considered myself a Rogue. I came up with a few things to remember:
1. The feelings you had on your first day, guess what? The job is still that great. Remember them, HAVE them.
2. This is the best job in the world, tell yourself this and when you do, mean it.
3. This is the best job in the world, tell your guys this and when you do, mean it.
4. There are a 1,000 other guys who will gladly take your job and do it with more passion and dedication.
5. You were once one of those 1,000, act like it.
6. Have fun, train, train on anything you can think of, make it a game, and make it fun like it was in the academy.
7. All organizations have flaws, some have it worse, some better, some only appear great from the outside, don't let it kill you.
8. Haze the rookies, but show them the love and support they need to make them better, it does wonders for you too.
9. Don't buy into the drama, I know its tempting, but it only wears you down and forget what you love about the job.
10. Force yourself to step away occasionally. We all know that we are firefighters 24/7, many of us work at least 1 if not two (maybe more) fire jobs but its okay to turn off the pager every once and a while. This has been my biggest offense and the one thing that has led me down this path, because I love the job so much, that it is ALL I did prior to being a mason. A minimum of 96 hours a week in a firehouse for years on end has led me to lose some of my passion, thankfully I realized it before it was too late. Force yourself to step away, because its the best way to prevent burn-out.
Hopefully I can help someone who has traveled this same road and doesn't know how to recoup the love they once had. Remembering a couple key things can help secure our personal futures in the fire service, the way I see it, there are too many "20-and-out" guys and not enough "40-and-out" guys these days, because the flames of passion for firefighting have left. Never lose your flame for firefighting, to put it simple, this IS the greatest job in the world.