While perusing several of the social media sites, I’ve noticed that there seems to be some nerd-bashing going on in the fire service these days. What do I mean by nerd bashing? Maybe not complete nerd bashing but definitely some separatist bully-like behavior between the jocks and the geeks. While recently attending my wife’s 20 year high school reunion and meeting many people that my wife had given me the scoop on, prior to introducing me to them. I started to notice that many of the geeks had become successful professionals. I than noticed that the jocks who all the girls had obsessed over in high school (including my wife) were overweight and mostly unsuccessful. The jocks were no longer “running the game”.
It was an entertaining evening to say the least and I started to reflect on my own life and character. As I look back, I was one of the kids that wanted to be cool and hang with the jocks. But instead I found myself in the middle. I had plenty of friends and hung out with both the jocks and the geeks. I was in the same accelerated classes as the geeks, but I enjoyed the after school extra-curricular activities and hung with the jocks during those times. It’s no surprise to me now that I ended up choosing a career as a firefighter, where you have to get along with everyone.
I’ve also noticed that not only on my own job but on many others there are a lot of younger firefighters that are in search of this “Salty Guy” persona. And they seem to follow those that also have that Salty attitude. The guys with this type of attitude seem to be a lot like the Jocks. They are trying to run the game with their ego’s and so-called experience. They’re awesome; just ask them because they will tell you!
So who are the Geeks? The geeks are the ones like Steve Kerber- UL-FSRI and Dan Madryzkowski- NIST Fire Research. Neither of these guys will deny that they both have a super-sized propellers over their heads, but they are also firefighters. Wait a minute? Why have these guys been winning all of the awards at FDIC? How can geeky firefighters exist? Were too cool for that! It's not cool to be educated, it's much cooler to be Salty.
Take a look at your fire service surroundings. We are so cool! Cool shiny red trucks with cool shiny wheels, your cooler if you work in a big-city, cops want to be like us, and the list goes on. We breed the jock or salty guy attitude and we wonder why we have all of these so-called cliques? Because that’s how we have always done it and we continue to embrace it.
I was fortunate to start under a great officer, that was a no B.S. kinda’ guy! He was probably the most experienced, well-respected individual in the entire department. But he was real, he didn’t try to create a salty guy persona, he didn’t need to. He was more of a professional than that. He taught me to do things the right way. Not because they were cool but because they were the right thing to do. Doing the right thing is not always the cool thing to do, but it’s often the most professional thing to do.
It appears to me now that if we need to have separation by cliques, I probably fall into the geek clique more than the jock clique. Which is weird to me because geeks by definition aren’t usually two-time Ironman finishers! However, I matured over the years and was willing to overcome a salty-guy ego and evaluate myself to learn that I was wrong in the past. But it’s more than just evaluating my own character. As an officer, I realized that my actions are always being evaluated by the younger firefighters. I have to do the right thing and try to show them what being a professional firefighter is all about. Since becoming heavily involved with the UL Firefighter Safety Research Institute. I’ve been fortunate to learn from a group of professionals that wants to the do nothing more than the “RIGHT THING”. In my opinion that’s what being a professional firefighter is all about. I ask you to take an honest personal evaluation and see if you need to make a change to do the right thing. Let’s get rid of the cliques and fences that are being built. Let’s respect each other and learn from one another. Professionals do the right thing. We don’t have to disregard our traditions to become a smarter, safer, and a more professional fire service. Let’s Stop Believing and Start Knowing!
Thanks for reading- Lt. Sean Gray Cobb County, Ga
A video parody for your personal enjoyment by B Nugget: I'm Salty and I Know It