I remember a time when I worked as a Firefighter in what was considered to be a rough neighborhood. Several blocks from our fire house was an automatic dumpster. The dumpster caught fire automatically every few days.
One evening we were extinguishing the dumpster fire and a small group of children were singing and dancing to some snappy song about “Fire” as we worked. They made us laugh. It was always refreshing for me to see these young children who were growing up in a tough environment and yet were still able to be just children and to find their neighborhood fire crew as safe and approachable.
I never ran the children away because I remember one of them saying “Fire Man Good Man – Police Man Bad Man.” Although I knew that this child’s analogy of the Police was a confused and incomplete story, I tried to stay focused on the area that I could impact, maintaining our “Good Man” status in the eyes of the children. It’s important to have influence in your lane and to do what you can to make life a little better there.
Why is it that children ask to receive fire trucks from Santa? Is it just the siren noises they can imitate while playing in the dirt or is it something more? Why do children dress up in their plastic fire suits and visit our fire houses or stop, point and wave at us when we pass by? What causes parents and school teachers to bring their children to visit the neighborhood fire houses across our great land, just as their parents and teachers brought them, and why do the Firefighters get so much joy from showing the children around and teaching them?
I wonder how many children who sang about “Fire” around the burning dumpster or who dressed up for us or smiled and waved at us became one of us. I wonder if their youthful joy and excitement at just seeing us in the neighborhood became a career goal for them. Did their soft laugh when we taught them STOP DROP and ROLL, or when we oiled up their bike chain, lead them into the fire service or was it at least a reason for them to bring their children to visit us in the neighborhood when we and they were no longer children. What other profession can wonder with such great wonderment?
How well do we treat our young people who come into the fire service from their neighborhood and do we teach them the little things that will make them appear so large to the children? Do we take the time to explain to them how to start out good and to get better and to bring sunshine to others when it looks like rain?
The Fire Service, firefighting and leadership are all a series of little things, it’s all fairly simple. If we start out well in every fire fight and in every leadership situation the situation usually gets better and if we lead and fight fire poorly, early on, the situation will surely get worse. So goes the life of a child who looks up to us with reverence and so goes the career of a Rookie.
A former Fire Chief once asked me if I wanted any of the Rookies who were about to graduate from our recruit school. He gave me an odd look when I told him that I wanted all of them, but he knew that I was serious. It has been a career joy for me to be around young people and to watch them succeed.
I have welcomed many Rookies into the district over my time in the neighborhood. I gave each one two things, tough love and tough love. I embraced their success and I wanted them to be able to do my job better than I had. Leaders don’t covet and hide knowledge under the hand tools, wedges, sprinkler stops and gloves deep in their coat pockets; they find a way to show it, to share it, to let it out, to give it away, to seed it and to watch it grow.
Two Rookies came to me years apart wearing my Firefighter badge number, #362. I had painted the number on my ¾ boots, on the underside of my helmet that protected my hard head and on my suspenders that kept my pants up. The badge number had no real significance to anyone other than me and yet when I saw these Rookies wearing it I told them about their badge number and what was expected of them and that they were not to dishonor my badge. They were told about the children, about the importance of fixing bicycles, why children chase fire trucks and how to carry on the “Good Man” traditions.
Both these Rookies did very well in their careers because they were good people and because they started out well in the neighborhood. They also both started out with Lt. Joe Elrod who never ran them away, who coached them, who pushed them, who taught them and who loved them as he had done with so many, including me, when I was a just a new kid in the neighborhood with shiny new gear and a will to belong to something so proud, so meaningful and so respected.
Is there time in your “Good Man” day to oil a chain or fix a tire for a new kid who wants to ride?
What’s deep in your pockets that you really should share?
Can you STOP for a rookie, DROP and show them the dance and the song, and teach them early on how we ROLL?
What is the significance and importance of your badge?
Do we ignite our Rookies every few days with traditions or do we wrongly assume it happens automatically?
Starting out in a tough environment does not mean that you have to finish there. Give all you have.
The children are watching.
Thanks for reading, liking and sharing with a Rookie.
Have a great day – it’s a GREAT day for it.