Why Are You A Firefighter?
I was recently invited to speak at the Angola Fire Department Symposium. During the last class of the day which was Leadership: Trust, Love and Thermodynamics, I started off by asking those attending why they were firefighters. This was a question meant to be answered privately and even written down. I told the story of a LODD that happened several years ago and all of the circumstances leading up to it and then I asked the same question again. “Why are you a firefighter?”
You probably could answer that question without much thought when you first started your career. Your passion was high, your enthusiasm for the experience of this remarkable career could only be described as like a “kid in a candy store”. There are many of us that keep that spirit and nothing seems to waver it. There are many of us however that experience life changing events that chip away at the “kid in the candy store”. There are many of us that suffer at the hand of incredulous leadership that wears down that spirit to the point that we might be like the adult Peter Pan, portrayed by Robin Williams, in the movie Pan. He was old and had no idea how to “crow” or play and didn’t even know who he was. Many more of us find ourselves somewhere in between highs and lows depending on how things are at the moment.
I guess we are not the only profession that has its personal ups and downs. The profession just mimics life in general. You should ask yourself the question, “Why am I a firefighter?” all the time so as to remind yourself what your real mission is. There could be many different answers and I have heard a lot of them during classes and in the fire stations. Some say they got let go from another job and just needed a job. Others say because of the insurance and pension. Unfortunately some struggle to find the answer and some simply answer, “Because it’s fun”.
Fortunately for the fire service the overwhelming majority of the answers I hear are, “To serve the community “or “To help others”. These are the answers I am looking for and I like when they are presented in a non-cliché fashion. You know the sport guys are always going to say, “We just take it one game at a time” and so forth. But we need to know what serve the community and help others means. It can't just be the canned answer. So if we are there to serve then what is the business that we are in? Most respond with the “fighting fire business” or “saving lives and property business” all of which are somewhat correct but I answer with this:
We are in the people business. The buildings can be rebuilt, most property can be replaced, but we are in the business of buying a mother the chance to see her son graduate, buying a father the chance to walk his daughter down the aisle, buying a kid a chance to go to college, buying a couple another anniversary, buying grandma one more Christmas with the family, buying that baby the opportunity to live a full life. That’s what business we are in and we do it in many different ways. When we are not actually engaged in doing that then we should be preparing ourselves to do just that. Everything else is fluff. We do it by being competent at fire suppression and search and rescue. We do by being top notch medics. We do it by enforcing building codes and ensuring alarms work. We do it by educating high risk groups about fires. All of these things and more put us in the people business. The citizen doesn’t get to call 911 and determine which firefighter, which station or which department to send. They just get whoever is closest and whoever happens to be working or volunteering that day.
So with that in mind, how dare you to be anything but the best at what you do!