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Never Forget Your First Day

Joseph Kitchen, Bath Twp. Fire Department (Lima, Ohio)

     I love the fire service. I truly believe that being a career firefighter is the best job on the planet. Thrilling, exciting, fulfilling, and demanding are all words I use to describe this awesome career. If you ask a little boy what he wants to be when he grows up, the answer is often a firefighter.

     Unfortunately, I see a few firefighters who sometimes allow themselves to get stuck in rut or to be thrown off track and, as a result, slowly turn negative about their career choice. Sometimes an internal fire department issue can spark this change. Being passed over for a promotion, being involved in a disciplinary situation, or having conflicts with a fellow firefighter or officer can cause certain individuals to lose focus and begin to have poor attitudes. In other cases, its outside forces that can turn a good firefighter into a bad one. Divorce, death of a loved one, financial stress, mental or physical health issues, and drug or alcohol use can all be factors that may cause a firefighter to go off the rails. Sometimes its a slow progression, other times it can be more immediate, but ultimately someone who once loved their job can become very unhappy. 

     When I see these situations unfold, one of the first things I ask the individual is, Do you remember how you felt on your first day? The nervousness of taking an entrance exam, preparing for the physical agility test, the sweaty palms as you shake hands with the fire chief at your oral interview. Do you remember when you got your letter in the mail, or received the phone call notifying you that you were hired? Can you recall the first time you put your uniform on and stood in front of the mirror? Think back to that first morning you walked into the station for your first shift. Remember your swearing in ceremony and receiving your badge. Think back to your first real fire, your first time on the nozzle. Remember your first save, your first time doing CPR, your first hurt child and your first you did a good job pat on the back from your fellow firefighters.

     Think about these things often. Never forget your first day and how proud you were to be a firefighter. Never forget how many people would love to be where you are. Think of the thousands of people across the country who try to do what we do, but fail to make it happen. Never forget the feeling of accomplishment when you achieved your dream and never take it for granted.

     If you ever start to feel like you are forgetting, and you may be losing sight of how great this job really is, here are a few tips:

  1. Ask for a new challenge. Maybe it’s time for a promotion. Begin professional development; set goals to move forward within your organization. New responsibilities often reinvigorate us and get us refocused.

  2. Ask for a transfer. A new truck, company, shift, or station might be the answer. A change in scenery is sometimes all it takes to reset ourselves. A fresh start is often a very good thing.

  3. Find a new specialty. Check into learning a new skill such as hazmat, dive team/water rescue, arson investigation, confined space, code enforcement, fire prevention/education. There are so many facets of the fire service which allow us to put our energy into something we really have a passion for doing. Pick one and get to work.

  4. Teach. Become an instructor. Train new recruits. Teach firefighters, EMT’s, paramedics, hazmat responders, or new officers. Nothing will recharge your batteries like young, new, and excited firefighters who are eager to learn from you.

  5. Get help. Talk to your company officer about how you are feeling. Communicate your frustrations. Share your thoughts and ideas. Seek assistance from health professionals if warranted. But please, get help from someone.

         This really is the greatest job. It’s an honor and a privilege for us to be able to do what we do every day. This career has given me far more than I have given back to it. This job has never let me down. Through personal crisis and challenges, the firehouse has always been a place of refuge that I could depend on. Don’t let me mislead you; our department isn’t some kind of utopia. We have personnel issues, budget shortfalls, and all of the other problems common in the fire service. But, when the alarm rings, I get to go out these doors with some of the greatest people on Earth. I will never forget how lucky I am to come to work every day. I will never forget my first day and I hope that you won’t forget yours.

     

    Joseph Kitchen, OFC, is the Chief of the Bath Twp. Fire Dept. (Lima, Ohio.) He began his career in 1990, and has served as fire chief since 2002. He holds degrees in EMS and Fire Science, and in 2012, was named Fire Officer of the Year by the Ohio Dept. of Public Safety. Follow Chief Kitchen on Twitter @bathtwpchief and visit his departments website at www.bathtwpfd.com

     

     

     

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Comment by Joseph Kitchen on March 30, 2015 at 2:27pm

Thanks John...good point: passion vs. enthusiasm & I certainly agree. Even a bad day at the F.D. is a good day to me. I appreciate your comments!

Stay safe!

Comment by John Staley on March 30, 2015 at 2:23pm

Joe,

Great advice. I have been hiring firefighters since 1998 as a chief officer. You can ask any firefighter I have ever hired either as a chief officer or the Fire Chief, my first piece of advice is never forget the day you received notification that you had been hired. Then remember how you felt when they pinned the badge on you. I especially tell them to remember this day when they are sitting around the kitchen table and one of their disgruntled brothers or sisters complains about how bad the job has become or how the citizens don't appreciate firefighters like they used. I tell them don't confuse passion for the job with enthusiasm. We all take some hits and have highs and lows to our enthusiasm, but we should never lose our reason for being here and our passion for what we do, and why we do it. Preach brother Preach!

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