I am fortunate to be assigned to the busiest engine company in an urban department where I can get a great deal of experience every day. My engine averages around 4000 calls a year and we have more target hazards than I can count. I consider myself lucky that every day I go to work I get plenty of opportunities to practice my job. Unfortunately my attitude is not the prevailing one.
I recently had a conversation with a relatively new lieutenant about call volume. I was giving him a hard time about his company’s lack of and how their numbers would never match up to the runs and experience we get at my house. A little ribbing all in good fun but then he countered that his company only runs “Quality” calls and that my company can have the “Quantity” calls because they didn’t want them.
It was then I realized that this was the prevalent attitude amongst a growing number of firefighters in my department and it frustrated me. People have lost touch with what we are here to do. They have forgotten what this job is all about. They have forgotten why we get a paycheck. And most importantly they have forgotten about the importance of the “Quantity”.
The “Quantity” is our job. It is the reason we were hired. Every time the tones sound and we are sent on an emergency call you should be thinking “This is why I am here. This is why I have a job!” Someone needs help and you get paid to go provide it. You get paid to go on the “Quality” and “Quantity” and you should become an expert at both, but especially the “Quantity”. The “Quantity” will be the majority of what you do and the times you are most likely to get complacent and in turn, most likely to get hurt or worse.
Let’s not forget that someone called 911 because they were having a bad day or involved in a bad situation or have a problem they need fixed. How dare you classify one person’s emergency a higher “Quality” than another’s? How dare you say someone’s bad day is just a “Quantity” call? The minute you do this is the minute you damage the honorable reputation your department has built, the minute you lose my respect, and the minute you should be ashamed of the attitude you have adopted. It is a privilege to be here and you would be well served to remember that.
The “Quantity” is your opportunity to fine tune what you do. It is your opportunity to be a student of the job. Everyone has heard the mantra “Practice how you play”. The “Quantity” is your opportunity to practice, your opportunity to hone your skills, your opportunity to learn, and your opportunity to teach someone else. Teaching is the best way to leave a legacy. The generation that comes after you is relying on you to teach them and you don’t get to complain about what type of firefighter they become if you didn’t do a good job teaching them. Every call you respond to is an opportunity to make yourself and your crew a little bit better. Every response allows you an opportunity to sharpen your district knowledge. It is an opportunity to figure out what hydrant to take or where the FDC is in the event of an actual fire. You can preplan on every call for service. Rather that sit on the truck while the first due company investigates you can get out and test your hydrant or clear the trash from the FDC. Use the opportunity to teach the rookie a skill that he may not get to practice often. The list of things you can learn, teach, or practice is endless.
For those of you trying to get promoted, I promise you this will pay dividends. There is a reason that historically busier houses produce the most promotions. Firefighters running the “Quantity” are the ones who are experienced and proficient, have district and operational knowledge, and a toolbox full of information about how to handle most calls. They are the ones who are going to score better in assessment centers because they have the experience to handle anything thrown at them. They have no problem in promotional interviews because they are used to talking on the radio and talking to citizens on calls. When is the last time you had to give a scene size up or took command of an incident? Do you know what you sound like or how you perform in those situations? I can assure you the assessors will know. If you have been passed over for promotion more times than your daily call average, it may be time to fill out a reassignment request.
I know we have to staff the slow houses so not everyone gets to be at a busy house, but if you really want to get better and you really want the experience, I am sure arrangements can be made for you. I am not wishing more emergencies on anyone but if they have one I hope I get to be the one that helps… and learns. I challenge each of you to make every call a “Quality” call.
YOU DON’T HAVE TO THINK LIKE ME. YOU JUST HAVE TO THINK.