When it comes to rank there are those who think that respect comes with it. This thinking is so far from the truth it is almost laughable. We know that respect is earned and not given. I do agree that you need to respect the rank, but not always the person. The question is, how does one earn respect? Respect is earned over a long period of time. The day you walk into the fire house be it career of volunteer you are being watched and evaluated by your actions. There are many thing you will be judged on, but the main are work ethic, personality, attitude and performance.
When we talk about work ethic you are being looked at your actions around the station. When you were a rookie were you told what to do? Did you wait for the page over the speakers to announce that house work needed to be done, or were you already up and doing it before an announcement was made. Did you recognize that the apparatus was dirty and washed it, or did you wait until someone asked you for help. Was there ever any dirty dishes in the sink? Was the dishwasher full of clean dishes? Did you pitch in to help cook dinner even if you did not know how to cook? Did you keep the coffee pot full of fresh coffee? These task seem menial, but you are being watched and everything you did or did not do is forever remembered. While rookies are in recruit class they are told many things, but the one lesion I drill into their heads is; your first year in the station will define who you are for the rest of your career. Meaning, if you are sub-par that will be your label for the rest of your career, but if you are a stellar employee you will be labeled that way. A bad reputation is very hard to get out from under in the fire service. As you move forward in your career your work ethic will follow you and will play a part of the respect you receive.
Your personality is another crucial part when it comes to define who you are in the fire service. What kind of person are you? Are you a loaner one who does not engage with the shift? Do you sit away from others? Do you sit at the kitchen table and listen to the conversation and join in? Are you one who can listen as well as talk? Do you care about your fellow shift mates or do you just show up to work put in your time and then leave? Being a firefighter is the type of job that you have to care, not only about the civilians, but also your shift mates. Most who work for the fire service have type “A” personalities not all exhibit all the traits of Type “A”. What is a Type “A” personality? Look at this comparison of Type “A” vs. type “B”
As firefighters we need to have a mixture of type “A” and Type “B” Take the best of both. This will prove to be beneficial as you move forward in your career.
Your attitude can be infectious in a positive way, or can be poisonous to the organization. We all know that guy/gal who complains about everything, or is negative. Conversely we know that person who has a great attitude, one who comes to the station ready to work no matter what the day brings. There is a lot of down time in the fire service, like the military it have been described as 90% boredom with 10% of sheer terror! As firefighters how do we fill the void of down time? Do we complain about everything from management to dinner, or do we engage in an activity that will make us better firefighters and community leaders? Members who find fault in everything can not only bring down a shift, but as they move forward in rank can destroy an organization. Keeping a positive attitude and looking at the brighter side of the fire service will pay off in the end. You will find people will follow you and will want to work with you as well as for you.
Finally we come to performance. How you perform on emergency incidents as well as in the fire house will pave the way for respect. How well do your know your job? Do you go beyond the basics and strive to stay up to date as the fire service moves forward. I do acknowledge that some things stay the same, but there are changes that happen in the fire service that one has to understand and accept. The phrase we do it this way because this is the way we have always done it, does not hold water. Take the irons for example, it is the axe and Halligan, but there have been some who try to change it, and replace the axe with an 8lb sledge, but in the end the 8lb axe and Halligan are the irons. Now look at command, has it changed in the last 30 years, how about the last 10 years? You bet and we in the fire service had to adapt and change. The firefighters only strive to be mediocre will eventually fail in the mission, but the ones who are constantly bettering themselves through education and training will be the ones who move forward and pave the way to a better fire service. There is nothing better for a firefighter to receive than Great job and your one hell of a firefighter. This adulations are better than any medal.
Respect is something that is earned and not automatically given. Yes the rank does come with some respect, but only the rank is respected and not the one who wears the badge. There is a big difference. Having a great work ethic and good personality an infectious positive attitude and great knowledge of the job and the ability to perform well will earn the respect of your peers, but it is important to understand that you have to continue earn the respect once you get it.