When I entered the fire service twenty years ago things were much different than they are today. We must ask ourselves, why are things different? We have to stop our backward slide or the fire service, as we know it, will die. When I began my fire service career, I had a lot of people that were willing to help me and wanted me to succeed. I've worked with some really great officers and likewise some really bad officers. As that probie firefighter you are a sponge and you soak up everything possible, both good and bad. When a new firefighter enters this profession they are looking for someone who will show them the way. I understand that all departments and probationary periods are different but one thing that should be the same across the fire service is our willingness to help the new firefighter. I have spent many late nights and early mornings on the apparatus bay floor with new firefighters going over the rigs, equipment, and answering questions. Not only does your willingness to help show that you care, but it keeps you up on your skills and knowledge. If you are a senior firefighter, engineer, or company officer and your direction for a new firefighter is, "go figure it out", then shame on you. I have had officers tell me, "that's what I was told when I was a probie so I'm just passing it on.” If that is your response then you need to leave the fire service. Even the greeter at Wal-Mart is willing to help customers. If this is how we are treating the new firefighters then we are breeding bad attitudes. Now don't get me wrong, I understand that we all have things to do throughout the shift but instead of sitting in the recliner all night get out there and help the new firefighter, put your favorite TV show on record.
I had a Captain tell me one day, "I will never ask you to do something that I myself wouldn't do". He lived what he preached, he would help train the new firefighters, help wash the engine, clean the dishes, mop the floors and do it with a smile on his face because he understood the fire service. I have worked with officers that will not even check their own SCBA at the beginning of shift. Is washing the engine enjoyable, maybe not but it shows department pride and it shows the new generation the right thing. If you are the training officer or in charge of training and you have your crew out pulling hose and you don't even dress out, let along participate, then what are you showing your crew and the new firefighters? You are showing them that you don't care. I have witnessed this many times and have had other firefighters both new and senior approach me and say "some kind of leader that guy is.” This kind of stuff needs to stop in the fire service. If you feel that you know everything in the fire service, then it's time to retire. If you are a two person crew and before shift change the engine needs to be washed and you feel it's more important to hide in your office than help wash the engine, that proves you don't care and that you have no pride. The new firefighter is seeing all this and taking notes. Hopefully that new firefighter will realize they need to gravitate to those who will help them succeed.
If you are a senior firefighter, engineer or captain then ask yourself, “am I a leader or a boss?” I have worked with both and I prefer working for a leader. I appreciate it when my officer trains with the crew, assists with station duties and has a willingness to help. This is the kind of person I want to work for and strive to be like. I have held the position of company officer and have had firefighters approach me and say "I would rather work with you because you care and you're a good leader and officer.” While that makes me happy to hear, it also saddens because they should be saying< "I love working with all the officers in our department because they are all great leaders.” If you are hiding behind your title and you feel that yelling and letting others struggle is the right thing to do, then you are not a leader. Show your crew and the new firefighter that you are human and you are not afraid to make mistakes. Everyone will respect you more for that instead of just hiding your weaknesses.
Find out if your department has a mentoring program and volunteer to be a mentor to the next generation of firefighters. If your department does not have a mentor program then talk to someone about starting one and pass on the passion and love for the job. We will do ourselves, the ones who came before us, and the ones that will carry on after us, a huge disservice if we do not pay it forward and preserve the craft. The weak will pray on the strong and try to sway you, but if you stay strong and keep the course you will prevail because failure is not an option.
Instructors from all over the country converged on northern Ohio for an amazing two days of training and passing on the craft. There were no egos, no chest thumping, humbleness was in the air. These instructors are mentors, just because they don't work together or with the students didn't stop them from showing the way.