Tradition. Pride. Dedication. Self-sacrifice. These are some of the reasons we embark on a career, volunteer or paid, in the fire service. If your department holds these values essential, then I applaud you. I have unfortunately experienced first hand, by seasoned members, an absence of ownership, lack of mentoring, and general disregard toward the enthusiasm of the upcoming generation.
Sadly this occurs at any level in the fire service. For example a senior member or officer comes into work, grabs a cup of coffee, sits and does his morning brief, then disappears into his office for the rest of the tour except for meal time. He doesn’t participate in the rig check, and he is not available to answer questions from junior or even senior firefighters. He is around for drills but complains that the drills are repetitive or “bull....” My guess is this is the way his Captain ran his crew when he was a firefighter. Though possibly unintentional, he is bestowing this culture onto his firefighters.
Along comes an ambitious firefighter or junior officer with some time on the job, while he does have experience, he also pursues additional training and education. This ambitious firefighter/junior officer is starving for quality, wisdom, loyalty, and mentorship. His thirst for improvement and knowledge can be converted into pride and excellence. He starts to come to work early, maybe even does work from home. His ambition spills over onto his crew and they start taking pride and ownership in their own work, the rig is washed and waxed regularly, the tools look new even though they are years old, drills take place even when they are not scheduled. They all begin to create ownership, trying to make their fire department the best it can be. Even possibly start some new traditions of pride, dedication and self-sacrifice.
Most people reading this would think that the ambitious firefighter/junior officer is a model firefighter, in the sports world this guy is considered “coachable.” A problem, however, begins to occur when the senior member discourages, looks down on, or in some cases, ridicules the firefighter/officer for his initiative. Maybe this senior man is at the point of his career when he is “riding it out until retirement” or “going through the motions.” He feels that these ambitious people are upsetting the apple cart. My hope is that this senior guy was the ambitious firefighter or junior officer at one time but generations of this thinking has “broken” them down. This is why the senior men have to recognize what the new generation wants and needs. THEY WANT SENIOR MEN TO BE SENIOR MEN! This can be the beginning of the culture change.
My suggestion to these senior members is to reflect on themselves when they were less experienced and yearning for passion and belonging. Ask themselves, what would I have wanted from my senior officers? Discouragement and absence, or inspiration and mentorship? Instead of showing up to just get to that pension or the yearly steak dinner, be the one that firefighters look up to and aspire to be like. If upcoming firefighters and officers want to train, get more educated, or just contribute to the fire service in any way they should be helped, embraced, and encouraged. Try to recognize that this new generation is trying to better themselves and their career.
Empowerment should be at the forefront, we need to empower our firefighters to become more than just a firefighter. It isn’t going to change overnight, but seasoned firefighters need to embrace the culture change, especially if it benefits the future of the fire service. We need to get to a place when the men start training and doing house duties out of pride and dedication, not necessity.
What better reward is it to see a member of your department that you encouraged and influenced become something great? You can help instill pride, ownership and excellence. Empower the upcoming guys, guide them in the right direction so they can continue to better the fire service. With change comes opportunity and growth. That is the essence of PRIDE, DEDICATION, TRADITION AND SELF SACRIFICE.