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Have you ever loved something so much it gives you chills thinking about it? The sense of excitement and overwhelming adrenaline that encompasses your body? That is how I feel about the fire service and I think it is safe to say that there are people out there that still have these same feelings. There are still children that get excited when they see fire trucks coming down the road and there are still adults and children visiting firehouses, the future is still there. So, what is the real problems today within the fire service? Why is recruiting firefighters getting tougher? Why is the dedication level dwindling down? Is it because of the home life? Is it poor leadership within the fire service? Is it the city officials or board of directors? Does the economy influence the negativity?

I think it is a combination of things,

For your family, you have a love and dedication so strong that nothing will ever take that away. Your child, your wife, your husband, your mom or dad or even grandparents. No matter what they will be there to love you and accept you and you know this, we all are guilty! Wait, Guilty? Why should you feel guilty for loving your family with all your heart, when they gave you life? In your families eyes you are already a hero just because……Family love is a bond that we can never break no matter how far away you are or how long it has been since you spoke with them. With family, you laugh together, you cry together, you bring life in to the world together, you attend funerals and say good bye to loved ones together, sometimes you get into fights with each other but you love each other, you not only love each other, you become best friends, you become a stronger family.

Sound Familiar?

What do we do as firefighters? We hang out together, we cook together, we eat together, we talk to each other, we vent to each other about our problems, we cry together, we laugh together, we sometimes argue and fight amongst each other, we bring life into the world, we see life leave the world no matter how hard we try to save them, we hold and comfort each other in hard times, we sometimes get trapped in fires and have to save each other, sometimes we get hurt and have to help each other, we train together, we get to know each other’s families, we study together, we travel together, a love builds for each other, we not only love each other, we become best friends, we become a stronger family.
There have been several firefighters upset or concerned that their relationships are on the rocks and I believe it is because of heart. Heart in both directions, confusing I know but sometimes it’s hard to accept the truth.  Firefighters both paid and volunteer are torn, they love their family with all their heart, I know because I have heard them very words from many, but once you have the love and dedication to the fire service it is hard to divide such a passionate love. You have your family who gave you children and has loved your thru it all. Then you have the fire service family who has risked their life for you and been willing to lose everything for you. When we know of our brothers at the stations training or cleaning or wanting to have a cold drink and vent about things, you consciously want to be there and sometimes will make the decision to go before you think about how the family at home will feel.  We know our family at home would die for us as we would for them, however in many situations with the fire service family we put our lives on the line together on a monthly, weekly or even a daily basis.  That alone is a bond that becomes unbreakable. There are other problems within the fire service that contributes to the lack of interest or the problems within the recruitment and retention, I believe the economy plays a major part.

The economy has forced many city officials and board of directors to get in the “we do not have very many of those calls” so we don’t need it stage, which is very dangerous and scary. We cannot predict what call comes next, we cannot go back in time and just haul water while calling other departments in to do our job. Many city leaders and Board of Directors across the country especially in volunteer settings are holding their fire departments and/or districts back because they run the district off their personal opinions instead of what is right for the citizens. This has become a major problem nationwide. It is hard to recruit and keep members when the board either has no clue about the fire service or they are members of other fire departments that still are doing things the way they did 20 years ago, and have it in their head that they are the best and nobody else matters. Folks, wake up! Get your citizens involved and get their support, get people with actual up-to-date fire experience. Do not let them stop you from moving forward. With the support of your citizens, you will be strong and your moral will build. I will say, it is not an easy job to get citizens involved. They do not need a fire truck on a regular basis therefore it may be hard to get their attention. You are working against years of complacent attitudes and people that are stuck in the past or do not believe the worst can happen to them. It can and it will, it is just a matter of time.

How is the leadership? Bad news travels faster than good news and there will always be both in the fire service. You will be met with firefighters on your own department that will be stuck in the old ways or the easy ways. As a leader, you must not be afraid of change, changing things is what moves you forward. Change is a hard obstacle to cross because most people do not like change, it is something new or different, it must be taught and trained on and the sad part about most of today’s firefighters is they have gotten complacent and lazy. Don’t let that happen, be a leader and lead, be an active leader and work beside your folks. The attitudes of the leaders have a major effect on the overall fire department. If your leaders are lazy then your department needs some adjustments or your firefighters will start to get lazy, the equipment and apparatus will start to get mistreated and eventually forgotten about. Once the citizens start seeing the dirty equipment and the lazy attitudes of your firefighters then the support of the citizens is going to be hard to gain. People that may be interested in joining the fire department will no longer have interest.

There are many circumstances surrounding the fire service that can play major parts in moral, public appearance, professionalism, recruitment and retention and the level of dedication. I believe as firefighters in today’s world we have many struggles on our hands however I must say that I am damn proud to be able to call myself a firefighter. As firefighters, we are among the strongest men and women I know, that is what it is to be one of us, to be a firefighter, to be able to change the fate of the people that we meet, at the turn of a call, we don’t see strangers, we see mothers, fathers, sons and daughters, it means when we see others running out, we run in. The job we have taken on is to make a difference! We sacrifice our own health and our own happiness for that of another, that is the true meaning of what we do and who we are! Don’t lose sight of that! So, if we can do all that for the citizens with due regard for our self then learn to recognize problems and fix them. Leaders, it is lonely at the top at times but do what is best for your members and for the citizens. Many people will try to knock you down, especially firefighters that have it in their head that they are better than you, Stay away from those folks. The ones that know everything is not training regularly and is a problem. Stand together and become a team. Train to maintain, learn that taking care of your equipment is respecting your equipment, learn to stand up for what is right and not just an opinion. Being a firefighter is not answering calls and answering calls is not all we owe our citizens. Keeping all equipment up, keeping all the training up, and building your heart. Building your family, building stability, friendships, trust, dedication and passion. That is what is means to be a firefighter.

Thank you,

Jeremy Perrien
Fire Chief
Scott County Rural Fire District
Scott County, Missouri

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