Fire Engineering Training Community

Where firefighters come to talk training

What Is Happening to Firefighter Passion?

            As a young kid growing up in suburban America, I like most of you, developed an unexplainable desire to become a firefighter.  The sound of the federal blaring down the street would draw me to the front window every time the local engine company went on a run.  Firefighters and firefighting was something that seemed bigger than life!  When you stop and think about it, it’s crazy so many of us knew exactly what we wanted to be when we grew up; even before we knew how to count to ten. Like most, my mom and dad would tell themselves, “it’s only a phase, he’ll grow out of it”, but obviously they were wrong.  With each year that went by, my love for the fire service only grew as I continued to really learn what it meant to be a firefighter.

            In my heart of hearts, I truly believe most people who join the fire service, do so with the initial goal of becoming the best firefighters they possibly can.  Probie’s speak so passionately about the life they are entering. How they want to dedicate their entire life to becoming the best firefighters imaginable.  They use words like tradition, pride, honor, courage, and integrity.  I mean come on, have you ever heard a probie on their first day say, “Yeah it’s kind of cool, I’ll try this job out and see if I like it.”  Hell no!!!  In the probie, you see a reflection of yourself; exactly how you were the day you were hired.  When new members come on this job, it’s a very honest and refreshing experience for all of us. We are reminded of how awesome it felt when all of our hopes and dreams finally came true. With one single phone call from the Chief, or whoever had the honor of welcoming you to the fire service, your life was forever changed from that moment forward.  When you stop to think about it, we’re really talking about some pretty powerful stuff.

            This leads me to a question that’s been bothering me for quite some time.  What is happening to so many of our firefighters passion for the job?    What happened to the new firefighter who couldn’t wait to go up to the academy; the firefighter who was so excited to see what company they would first be assigned to; the firefighter who used to get to work an hour early; the firefighter who was so proud to wear the uniform that let everyone know the name of their new family; the firefighter who, besides for the birth of their child, just experienced the greatest thing imaginable, an invitation to join the most elite fraternity on earth? 

            What is happening to the passion of our firefighters?  The firefighter who once had the feeling of “just hitting the lottery”, now feels as though his job is only a job, and the fire service somehow owes him/her something for just showing up.  To that I say, “That’s a bunch of crap”. If we choose to tolerate those feelings and attitudes and let them become “the norm”, than that is a huge failure of us as individual firefighters, but more importantly a failure of our beloved service.

            I am by no means implying this problem applies to all firefighters, not at all.  There are many “passionate firefighters” still out there, currently on the line, working day in and day out on fire departments throughout our great country and throughout the world.  We all know who these firefighters are.  If you are one of these “passionate firefighters”, then this article is especially meant for you.  Even more, than the firefighters who have lost his/her desire for the job.  It is the “passionate firefighters” we need to be part of this conversation.  It is you who needs to assist in finding an answer.   It is you we need to help discover a way to prevent our fellow brothers and sisters from abandoning their job.  It is you we need to help find a way to preserve this great brotherhood we call the fire service.

            At face value, this simple question seems to be one that would demand a simple answer.  However, after embarking on this mission, I have found the answer to be anything but.  I have proposed this question of “what is happening to firefighter passion”, to members of many departments, spanning all ranks, from private all the way to Chief of the Department.

            The answers I have received, which many times were given as a combination of the following:  

            “Oh it’s just a generational thing.”  These young firefighters coming on the job today aren’t made the same as firefighters of generations past.  Millennial’s are lazy, spoiled, selfish, and arrogant.  In days past, a young firefighter had to work hard to prove themselves in order to gain the respect of their fellow brothers.  Young firefighters today feel as though the fire service owes them something, simply for just showing up and wearing the T-Shirt.  In other words, it’s the “me generation”.

             “All the true firefighter’s are gone” Throughout the history of the fire service, senior firefighters were just that, senior firefighters.  This was the firefighter who had twenty to thirty years on the job. The firefighters who, not only knew their job and took it seriously, but had the experience to back it up.  The firefighter who, if you messed up, would be the first to let you know but then would take you under their wing and show you exactly what you did wrong. The firefighters who was the first one up from the breakfast table to start chores and “set the tone of the day”, and the firefighters who never had a problem putting in the extra time to teach a young probie who had a thousand and one questions.  Simply put, the firefighters who led by example.  It appears that many, not all, veterans in the fire service today are “SINO’s” (Senior In Name Only).  They will be the first to tell you how many years they have on the job and they are the senior firefighter of the station, but will refuse to pass along any knowledge or information they have acquired throughout their tenure.  If someone has the time on the job, but refuses to step up and lead, than that does not make them the “Senior Firefighter”.  It strictly means they were hired before you, period.

            “We don’t get as many fires as we used to” Long ago, the fire department was just that, a “fire” department.  The bulk of the calls were fires and we happened to cover those “other calls” when needed.  Young firefighters would go to the academy with images in their head of a firefighter being Kurt Russell charging through a doorway with a small child in hand, coat open and all.  Don’t lie to yourself; if you’re reading this article, you know you’ve seen the movie at least a few times.  Young firefighters would go through the process of getting hired, thinking they were going to be at work every night crawling down a smoky hallway; Mattydale in hand. Only soon to find reality is being crouched to the floor at 2:00 am with a blood pressure cuff in hand, for the third time that tour.  To be a good firefighter is much more than charging into a burning building and putting the wet stuff on the red stuff.  Being a good firefighter means putting your all into every aspect of the job, no matter how big or small.  It means checking your truck just as thorough on the third tour as you did on the first.  It means taking pride in your training and stretching lines with your crew as you would at a working fire.  It means staying up on recent near misses to avoid tragedy striking you and your crew.  And yes, it also means treating nice old Mrs. Smith, who fell from her bed again, just as nicely as you would your own grandmother.  The members I’ve seen retire with reputations of being great firefighters wasn’t because they knew how to work a hose line, while extremely important, it was due to the great pride they took day in and day out with all aspects of the job.

             It’s everyone else’s fault.  It’s the Chiefs fault we have this new S.O.P. which contradicts how we’ve been doing it for the past 50 years.  It’s the Commissioner’s fault we haven’t had a raise in two years.  It’s the alderman’s fault we have to drive this old pumper that’s scene better days.  It’s the public’s fault for not understanding what a “true emergency” is.  It’s the other shifts fault for not cleaning out the fridge on the last day trick.  It’s everyone else’s fault but our own.  When a firefighter first comes on the job, they could care less if they are riding in the oldest truck in the city or the one that was just delivered from the factory.  I’m not saying we shouldn’t care about our livelihoods and our safety, not at all.  We need to be champions for ourselves.  We need to educate our local politicians as to the safety features of our gear, the benefits of different apparatus, and the importance of proper manpower.  If we don’t, no one else will.  The problem is that many of us don’t harness our concerns properly.  Sitting around the kitchen table complaining day in and day out will never solve anything.  As like most of you reading this article, I too, have been sucked into these never ending conversations at the coffee table.  The conversations that point out a problem but never actually try to solve it.  The conversation that simply turns into a session of whining and complaining, without ever actually trying to solve the issue at hand.  Eldridge Cleaver said it best, “If you are not a part of the solution, you are a part of the problem.

             It’s no longer a team effort.   The fire service was once where everyone worked together in order to accomplish the mission.  Today it seems as though many are out for individual glory.  After a fire, members will tell you how great they did flaking out the line and running it up to the seat of the fire.  While in the same breath, be sure to inform you of how the other firefighter was fumbling around masking up at the front door.  When a young firefighter or lower ranking officer comes up with a great idea, which could serve the betterment of the whole department, it immediately gets shot down.  Why? Simply put, the idea didn’t come from someone with more bars on their collar.  We are so quick to judge and demean others in an attempt to make ourselves look and feel better as individuals.  I’ve heard and scene stories of firefighters and even officers screaming at probie’s on the scene of a fire simply because they were “not doing it right”.  I say shame on any senior firefighter and especially any officer, for yelling at a new guy, because the task wasn’t preformed up to their expectations.   Last time I checked, a firefighter was a direct reflection of their officer. If the firefighter isn’t performing up to the standard, than it is the officer’s fault for not teaching them the proper way.  It is up to the senior firefighter and officers to mentor and encourage fresh young minds in the fire service.  We need to build their confidence and ensure they will become great firefighters, not yell and shatter all of their self-esteem.  Individual companies and entire department’s are only as good as their weakest link.  We need to help improve our weakest link in order to make our company and department successful.

            While embarking on this fact-finding mission, other explanations of why firefighters were losing their passion did come up, however, it was these five that were continuously being repeated.  With every firefighter I spoke with, this list of five was of real concern, and each member felt these issues had serious contributing factors to the overall problem in some way or another.

            When you become a firefighter, everyone tells you, you will never be rich, you will miss many of your kid’s baseball games, and you will have many of sleepless nights.  But with those drawbacks, come along a thousand and one reasons why it’s the greatest job in the world.  The firefighter who helped provide answers to this question, made me realize the answer is anything but simple.  On the contrary, it is one that is extremely complex.  My intentions are not to solve this problem with one simple article and wrap it up nicely in a bow; that is not my intention at all. My hope is to start a conversation.  This concept of firefighter passion may not be as sexy when compared with topics like firefighter safety and survival, or forcible entry, but it is one, which is essential to the basic survival of our beloved fire service.  If we lose the drive and love for our job, then all of the training and educating on strategy and tactics will be futile.  I think the old saying, “It’s not just a job, it’s a lifestyle” is extremely important to this conversation.  If we allow our beloved fire service to become just another job, then we will be failing all of the generations that came before us.  We need those who haven’t lost the love for the job, the “passionate firefighters” to help in finding a way of retaining the pride and integrity of our life style and to our fraternity.  We must keep our family together.

Views: 12012


You need to be a member of Fire Engineering Training Community to add comments!

Join Fire Engineering Training Community

Comment by Christophe Benfeghoul on August 3, 2016 at 4:09am

A "passionate firefighter” answer to Adam Hansen


First, I would like to thank you to have reacted and shared your reflections on this subject which is both deeply tragic and human. (

I understand your questioning and I’ve carefully read your paper so may I suggest you my own analysis.


I am one of this famous « Y generation » (and you too), and also one of this passionate firefighter´s elite as you say it many times. It seems important to me to react to some notions that were several times evocated, which are essential for the understanding process because leading to a more accurate analysis of the “subject”.


As proof of my legitimacy, I invite you to discover who I am through my LinkedIn profile but mainly through my free eBook I’ve wrote and titled « The ethic of the rescuer» (

Such information will probably in a first step suggest you some answers you have never heard before, to your questionings.


Then, let me please make a direct and personal analysis of your paper. In this one, you use some specific words like « elitist », « norm », « lazy », “selfish », « experience », « pride» and « integrity » ; these words have some values and intensities which are intimately linked to the moral context of the man who uses them…

Indeed, when confronting a 95 years old ex-firefighter to a 25 years old young colleague, it would be impossible to introduce a direct and concrete communication without considering the geopolitical, economical and cultural context of each other; how a firefighter who worked after the war could have the same notion of the human life value as its counterpart living in this advanced era of capitalism?


These two people, who have the same function at first sight, have in common just the respiratory activity! Information and values can’t potentially be exchanged between them only if they take into account comprehension and deep awareness understanding of the way of life of each other.


A historical analysis:


Each problem in the present time finds its source, its explanation or even its solution in the analysis of the past. The human being is like this; he reproduces ever and ever, through eras, the same « mistakes ». These mistakes, which are in fact just logical steps of humanity evolution, evolve too, and lead people believing that they are facing new problems!


However the problems we live nowadays are special just because of their evolution pattern: generational evils and societal misunderstandings have always existed, and even people living in these past ages thought also that they were living a « special era ». In 2015, Rolf Schamberger wrote a book sufficiently complete on the history of firefighting, « Brandschutzgeschichte » (Kohlhammer Edition). He tells in a very impartial way, how the mentalities evolve, adapt themselves and then deteriorate through eras, through generations, and through civilizations…If you have strong interest in our history, you will learn and you will understand that in each age there were dark eras and human being behaviors linked to them. Not understanding the history of the human race equals not having knowledge on the actual generational problematic.


By the way I am astonished that you ask the question… In your paper you explain that you deeply believe that « most of people who join a firehouse are doing that with the initial objective to become the best firefighter they can be ». Dear Adam Hansen, have you been really informed on this subject? Or is it just a point of view developed during several kitchen conversations?  


I've worked in 3 fire brigades in 3 different countries, and through my experiences I can affirm the complete opposite of your « beliefs »:  there are and there always have been numerous types of motivation, even the more unexpected, and these have existed at any age: what were the motivations of the mothers firefighters who constituted the most of the fire brigades in Germany in 1943? For which reasons did the first municipal firemen in the history (named « les vigiles ») engaged in Rome in year 50? Have you dear Adam even asked this to yourself?


Analysis of history should be integrated to our basic knowledge: a « passionate » firefighter, being a member of the most « elitist of fraternities », should know the history of his peers and draw analysis from it, not because it’s interesting, but to prepare yourself to the future situations and not stay distraught as you are face to human realities.

Do we teach history in your academy training? If yes, do we give it daily any priority in the work in firehouse?


An « experienced» firefighter hasn't reached this level just because of his in situ interventions, but through his analysis of experience of any kind, even from other firehouses, other countries, or even from other eras. The experience isn’t just constituted by the famous « feed-back » of the last intervention, but also by the « how » and the « why » through generations and thus ages.


An « elite » firefighter having this passion for his profession, knowing its deep history, would not be astonished by the actual situation, because when you analyzed it through the real experience, it becomes a universal logic which is identifiable by its history.   


A political and economical analysis:


Historical analysis of the fight against fires leads us to a more "localized" reflexion, concerning the evolution of men who lead us, and concerning their tool: the goods! This merchandise that throughout history, has enslaved man.


At the time of the "community", called pre-Socratic, people lived in direct relationship with nature, that is ourselves. Francis Cousin explained in book titled "the Being against the having" how primary communities lived and what the notion of family meant. Relations between the men began to change during the post-Socratic period, when the goods have been exchanged and created the money that enslaves the human to transform it, to this day, in exchangeable value. Men who before lived in harmony with themselves and with their environment through the ages, tried to resist to the auto-destructive history of the merchant kingdom; it then created politics and religion to keep the men under permanent control.


Our existence has been until now a desperate struggle against the commodity fetishism, and Marx who said everything on this subject had already planned in its time what was going to happen today. Our world, controlled by consumption and so piloted by politicians, is only a forced headlong rush, till "programmed" deconstruction and reconstruction of profound human values.


"Family", "passion", "integrity", "experience" are values which actually take sense just through consumption society we’ve built. The market value absorbs all our behaviors of humanity to return them against us and, the firefighters environment also is obviously sucked up and transformed into a market value; thus French chief officers made in 2011 a study on "the cost identification of lives saved" in which they exposed without scruples how much a rescued life brings back to society...It is not surprising to notice that more and more "training companies" emerge, imposing the people having thirst for knowledge , to pay 1000 Euros for just one training day.


In addition, let me speak about some terms you use many times: "Elite" or even "pride" are words directly created by the "fetishism of goods" ; they are incitement to social partition, to castes system formation and to egocentricity. "Desire for work"? Do you really know the origin of the french word "travail»? It comes from Latin word "tripalium (you will find nice pictures on the net) which is a torture instrument, then, time after time used to mean the torment or even the suffering!

These are these kinds of values that created this famous "me me me" generation that you criticize so much; would the behavior of young people be an answer to our own ignorance and to our own arrogance? Laurence Johnston Peter who published a book in 1968 titled « The Peter Principle », presents with a lot of simplicity and humor, the hierarchy systems in the world of the work, which lead us inevitably to failure...


Finally, after a brief analysis of our political and economical system, we can quickly notice that the problem do not come from the Y generation, but effectively from the previous generations who had passively permitted the political and monetary system impose itself over ages; how would you, dear Adam, "educate our politicians" who have ingrained themselves during centuries in the cogs of society? 


Imposed immigrations, wars, laws secretly voted, terror attacks, the human being merchandizing, the massive industrial pollution are political and economical facts we have accepted during several centuries. The actual situation is only the result of an advanced progress of the market capital allowed by our "experienced" predecessors who have grown up with big rations of Kurt Russel. 


A philosophical analysis:


The truth is that it's unnecessary to be cultivated and to understand our environment without developing a dialectic leading to deep improvement; learning red trucks history, understanding the risks during firefighting, either keeping abreast for the last fire extinguishing ways, have sense only if you contrast these data to the current reality.


"Passion of our firefighters" is and has been at every age dependent on its environmental evolution, and if our young colleagues nowadays still have a "lazy, spoiled child, selfish and arrogant" behavior in response to this world perverted by the law of consumption. This world gentlemen, we have built it and we have left it in this configuration to the new generations! Until the problem will not be deeply treated, the young recruits’ behavior will only get worse.


The young generations are educated with smartphones and TV, even if thousands of studies prove the very bad effects of this "entertainments". But who educated them so? What about our rescue services? During our shifts, communication between colleagues has declined in the past few years, and it needed few time for some of us to stay in their own corner apart, playing with their Smartphone or watching TV, being thus closed to social and real relation during the shift. Look at your young generations: you created them and you have accepted them like that! 


Thus it's only now that we are shocked and we realize that newcomers are unmotivated and unsociable... Isn't a bit too late to react? What can we do?


Solutions are difficult to integrate, but they are clear and logical. Firstly we have to accept the fact that we "have failed"! Then we have to recognize objectively where our mistakes are. An humble analysis of the current situation, and overall of what led us to this, (without dishonest justifications) will allow us to introduce some effective and valid alternatives, and to use all our knowledge to understand all we have done wrong.


The firefighter must change his world point of view by developing a real intelligence which will allow him, through generations, to take a step back on his area of activity. This deep change will begin only by the "veterans" who accept and the beginners who learn to be accept...


We have to change fundamentally the subjects taught in our training programs and this at all levels; the newcomers have to learn to re-educate themselves by themselves in a society which perverted them : the academies and the training centers must first propose courses on ethics, philosophy, politics, history, or even economy, all related to the firefighter domain. We have to give to newcomers the ways to break away with a perverted and pervertising world for which they will have to work; they have to understand from where this perversion comes and they have to propose, in addition of their job, an alternative!  


The hierarchy system must deeply change: the team manager must move from this passivity and must eliminate all the factors identified as the most common barriers to a good body development. Each concession done, each « we can do nothing for this», or even each « it’s like that and we have to live with » will make us stagnate and will block positive evolution of our troops.  


Expressions « maintaining pride and integrity of our fraternity » and «keeping our family united » will stay lip-service until that they will not followed by real acts and radical changes, in opposition to our current behaviors of consumption. Increase the time spent to teaching philosophy to recruits, forbid the “screens” in the fire stations, start with pure social activities with colleagues or stop internal struggles are measures which can create a new breath that can regenerate our ranks.


Some parents don’t educate their children to be disciplined or to properly do the dishes, they educate them to become better than them and to avoid reproducing the same mistakes… Why not educate our young recruits as we do for our children? Their dream to be a « life rescuer » will take sense only in the recognition and deep love they have for humanity. 


Christophe Benfeghoul


Original text: LinkedIn

Translation: Dalila Mo

Correction: Karel Lambert

Comment by Karl Grath on May 24, 2016 at 5:18pm

I think a great way to keep the passion alive in a firefighter is through constant training. Staying active - physically and mentally - running drills, completing workbooks, analyzing scenarios... there are so many firefighter training books to give you ideas and help keep the interest going.

Comment by Jarrod Sergi on March 6, 2016 at 12:29pm
Great article Adam! Thank you for sharing.

Policy Page


The login above DOES NOT provide access to Fire Engineering magazine archives. Please go here for our archives.


Our contributors' posts are not vetted by the Fire Engineering technical board, and reflect the views and opinions of the individual authors. Anyone is welcome to participate.

For vetted content, please go to

We are excited to have you participate in our discussions and interactive forums. Before you begin posting, please take a moment to read our community policy page.  

Be Alert for Spam
We actively monitor the community for spam, however some does slip through. Please use common sense and caution when clicking links. If you suspect you've been hit by spam, e-mail

FE Podcasts

Check out the most recent episode and schedule of


© 2024   Created by fireeng.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service