I am a firm believer in earning your place - starting from the bottom of the ladder, doing the less desirable jobs, while climbing to the roof. New firefighters must prove themselves in what seemingly matters little, and more experienced firefighters will notice - and in turn trust them with more important jobs. The old adage “shut up and listen” still holds true today and is an important growth period for rookies. You do not come into the fire service with all the experience and knowledge that comes with years on the job (that can only come with years on the job), and you should never walk in the back bay doors proclaiming that you do. It’s not accepted, not tolerated, and will most likely keep you locked outside the inner firehouse family.
Want it? Earn it!
Now, for the veteran firefighters. It is your responsibility to approach new firefighters with a firm handshake and a wing to guide them. You do not expect them to know the job, you do not want them proclaiming they do, so it is your duty to teach them. How? Well…
- Be there for them the very first day. Introduce yourself and introduce them to everybody else. Show them what being in the family really means.
- Lay down the culture of what’s right and what’s unacceptable. How will they know if they’re never shown or told. Be patient, not everybody comes from the same social background and may take longer to grasp our culture.
- Show them the way, don’t just point! New firefighters learn as much, if not more, from watching how the firehouse conducts itself. Show them the way you want things done, and practice it yourself - they ARE watching.
- Listen to your new people. Yes, they may not know much about firefighting and may be as green as grass, but this generation of firefighters do come in the doors with a whole new skill set that most of us struggle to grasp - technology. What’s more, their life experiences may provide useful information and tools that can enhance your crew (i.e., mechanic, electrician, plumbing…) Which brings me to my last point…
- Get to know your new people. They expect much from you (whether they act like it or not), but you will not know where to begin without spending quality time asking questions and listening, really listening, to their answers.
This cartoon is not just about new firefighters proclaiming their presence and place at the table, it’s about you, the veteran firefighter, teaching them what is acceptable and appropriate.