This article is intended to compliment the article “The New Guy, By A New Guy” written by Thomas Redden and “Being the New Guy – A Rebuttal” written by Andrew Olson. Both of these articles offer what I believe is a view of the past and one of the future. Both authors bring up good points and, at a minimum, have created an opportunity to consider the new person, and whether we give them more of the same or something different. I appreciate and respect both their positions, and thought I’d offer a perspective as a retired fire captain. My outline follows that of the original article.
No one controls when they were born or how they were brought up. For the most part, our parents or those that raised us initially influenced who we are as adults. How they grew up factors into what you learned, didn’t learn, or experienced. If you were lucky, you had a number of odd jobs as a child and young adult to fill in the gaps of what you didn’t know and to teach you life skills. Millennial is a label to describe general characteristics of a generation, but it doesn’t necessarily mean each member of that generation shares the same characteristics or is defined solely by that label.
Every fire department is made up of multiple generations. Each group comes with their generational labels and characteristics, pros and cons, etc., and each one is different. If your department has taken the time to train personnel about the current generations in the workplace and to discuss the differences of each one, chances are you are ahead of the game. In doing so, you gain a much better understanding of why people behave the way they do or are the way they are. You begin to understand each other better by exploring your differences and similarities.
Our diversity should not be limited to the traditional components of group diversity like race, skin color, religion, sex, and national origin, but should be as broad as possible to include knowledge, skill sets, experiences, etc., and yes, some of the characteristics of our individual generational groups. Having a variety of diversity helps a department better reflect the citizens they serve, aids in problem solving, training, providing quality services, and makes for a more versatile team with varying perspectives. There’s a reason each generation crosses paths with others, just like with people, to learn something from each other.
It’s okay to be you in whatever generation you are in and as the new person. You may be the fresh set of eyes to break the mold of complacency, daily routine, and poor workplace culture that may not be healthy. You also have just as much to teach those that came before you, but realize they have something to teach you as well. You’ll want to gain from their knowledge before it leaves your department. The new person relationship should not be one sided, but both sides offering their best to support each other. What the new person doesn’t know, the veterans should teach. What the veterans may not know about technology or whatever else you bring to the table, you can show them.
You may find that as the new person you are more in tune with science based modern fire tactics, while the veterans may be less in tune, but rather more experiential based. This is an opportunity to learn from each other to better understand the best practices to mitigate today’s fires. Don’t think you have everything to gain and nothing to offer. Veteran firefighters should also avoid coming across as arrogant or ignorant in thinking you need them more than they need you. There is room for everyone.
Your generation has the opportunity to help create a new mold for the new person. You offer a college education in many cases and the ability to multi-task and pay attention at the same time, even when it looks like you are not paying attention. You may look at your phone more than you make eye contact. If you can recognize this in yourself, you can begin to make adjustments that cause you to come across in a better light. Old timers in fire houses like eye contact. Well, most people do. If you are listening, but look like you’re not, the person speaking to you may think you’re not. Simple steps go a long way to connecting with others.
As the new person, if you already believe your generation will also be the group to dish it out to the new firefighters when your day comes, well, you’re destined to continue the same behavior. Be the person that steps up and mentors, that nurtures the new person. Share your knowledge with them and reassure them while building their self-esteem. Realize the new person has something to offer you. They will be in charge of the department one day. Help them leave it better than you do.
The days of the leather lunged, soot covered mustache men are coming to an end for good reason, like the increased rates of cancer among firefighters. Also, the new guy may be a new girl. The fire service is made up of men and women of all walks of life. We need to speak of our service as though everyone that is a member is regarded as a member, despite differences. It’s not the good old boy club anymore, its Brothers and Sisters.
Too New’ Guys
So as the new person, realize you come into recruit school as an equal to your peers. When you graduate and are assigned to a station, you are not an equal to the members in the station, only to the other probationary firefighters. The folks that came before you have been on longer, have done what you are getting ready to do, and in some cases are happy to see you because you will be taking over some of their work duties. Some have more fire experience, more EMS experience, more call volume experience, and more experience in dealing with people. They have earned their place.
As you begin to become acclimated to the station life, it’s likely your crew already knows something about you through the grapevine and through reports from recruit school staff to the field. You will earn your respect from them by showing up early, by never being late, by having a positive and motivated work ethic and attitude, by recognizing and taking care of things before being asked, by being the first to get up from a meal and start collecting and washing dishes, by doing your housework in a timely and quality manner, and offering to help others just because. You also have an obligation to learn and retain information quickly, and to show a good understanding about what you should be doing on each given incident. Wear your gear properly every time, be fast, and follow orders and instructions. Keep your face out of your phone and away from the television during business hours. You have plenty to learn for the first year and beyond. Every day is a training day. Failure to create the kind of reputation you want to be known for will result in others creating a reputation for you whether you like it or not. Be who you want to be, not what others think you are.
You need to earn your way to being accepted. Get to know and interact positively with your crew and others. Be the first person to speak up and introduce yourself to others, to greet visitors or to answer the phone. Show respect to others, but realize this is a two way street. Senior folks should not feel they are entitled to your respect. They too must earn it.
While I agree some firefighters have a hard time accepting credit for a job well done; people need to be acknowledged when they do a good job. The fire service is often quick to point out a person’s shortcomings and very slow to acknowledge them when they do a good job. Firefighters by nature are not very good at accepting recognition for doing a good job because many of them don’t give praise to one another. Sure it’s your job, but everyone likes to know they are doing a good job. This can be a huge motivator. Millennials are hard workers, but they want to know what they are doing is making a difference. It’s not just a millennial thing; everyone likes to know they make a difference. Above all, as veterans, remember you were in the new person’s shoes. If you had it rough, it doesn’t mean you need to make it rough on the next person. They can still earn their place and maintain some respect and dignity with daily chores, etc.
Two Eyes, Two Ears…
As the new person, your brain should be a sponge to learn anything and everything. You’ll experience people that show you how not to be and others who show you how to be. Both are valuable influences, and you’ll choose from each person what you want to help you be you. While you may be quieter in the beginning, ask questions when you have them and seek your crews’ assistance as you need it. In time, you’ll be able to offer insight to your crew that they may be able to learn from.
Not Your Father’s Fire Service
The new person brings value to the team, value in what you have to offer and daily training. Training you will make the team better. You should not be treated as less than a member of your team, but know you need to work to be accepted, respected, and appreciated. This takes time. Train daily and hard, ask questions, seek assistance from others to help you learn, value the knowledge and experience of others. If you have fire experience already, great! But realize you need to learn your department’s way. If you can offer something new to others, do so, but don’t be the know it all. Be responsible for what you need to know to pass probation and to live up to your crew’s expectations. Make them proud! You are considered a reflection of the team and of each of them.
If you are a young firefighter, you may lack life experiences and may feel awkward in social settings. It’s okay, you just have not caught up to everyone else. You’ll get there and hopefully you have members of your team that will mentor you and help you get up to speed. Some veterans may expect you to come to the table knowing how to do everything they can do, but this is an unrealistic expectation. Recruit school provided the basic fundamentals, and you still have much to learn. They need to be patient, and if they believe you lack knowledge or proficiency, they should provide you with assistance to learn. If the crew is playing with you, they like you.
It’s not your father’s fire service for good reason. The fire service needs to evolve and spring forward to function from its future, not from its past. It’s okay to honor those that came before us, but we need to lead from the front into tomorrow, not yesterday.
Today, the senior person might be the true informal leader of the crew who has a depth of experience and time on. Who can appreciate what was, what is, and what will be, and has seen things come around once or twice already. They know the apparatus, equipment, crew members, territory, and regular customers. However, given many departments are made up of younger, less experienced firefighters through natural attrition, the senior person could be the person that has little experience, thinks they know it all, and has less than 5-10 years on the department. The latter is considered senior because they happen to have more time on the job or at their station than anyone else.
In my opinion, the senior person is the journeyman. They get it, have seen most of it, and have a strong work ethic, strong work relationship with crew and officer, and set a positive example for others. They may want to aspire to be an officer or simply want to be the best firefighter/driver/operator they can be. The true senior person is a person that can help you accomplish your goals or a person to put you in your place when you step out of line or need extra motivation. He/she is the voice of the crew and has the ear of the officer. I agree, win over the senior person, win acceptance from your team.
The Extra Mile
I agree going the extra mile is often the quickest way to earn your crew’s respect and toward building a solid reputation for yourself. Whether you are mopping floors, scrubbing toilets, making coffee first thing in the morning, and before it runs out, or effectively checking your apparatus and equipment, giving your all shows. Let your motivation, quality, and efficiency of your work speak volumes for you. Maintain consistency in your giving and daily responsibilities. Always arrive early, never late, and ready to go. The person you relieve and your crew will appreciate this. The prize for this effort is earned over a period of time in the way of a good reputation, acceptance, reliability, and feeling good about your accomplishments and the respect you get from others.
Be the New Guy
Being the new person is exciting and scary at the same time. Maybe you are brand new to the fire service. Maybe you are young. Maybe you are a military veteran taking on a new career. Maybe you’re older. Maybe you come with a wealth of firefighter knowledge. Maybe you come with little knowledge. Regardless of the kind of new person you are, you are who you are, and folks should meet you there.
The older fire veteran may have more experience than you, but you are likely smarter in education. Your technical abilities are stronger. You may have the ability to effective multi-task with active listening. You are the new person today, but this will be your department to lead into the future. Learn what you can from those that are in the last half of their career, as well as from those at the beginning of their career. Think about what you will go through and how you want to leave your department better for the next generation. You are different for a reason. You bring a fresh set of eyes into an honorable profession built of tradition and pride. Often this is good, but sometimes traditions should be broken if they lead to bad work culture. Sometimes a fresh set of eyes moves us away from complacency, and sometimes we shake things up in an effort to make things better for all.
Be the new person the best way you can. If you became a firefighter you’re already pretty special and should be proud of your accomplishment thus far. If you’re a true firefighter, this is your career, not a simple stepping stone or opportunity to try something different. You can get killed in this job. Take it seriously. Your Brothers and Sisters want to feel comfortable working alongside you, because it may one day be you pulling them out of a h***. Don’t take this job or those you work with or serve for granted. Give your all every day to serve others and to make your department better than it was when you came until you can’t give anymore, then it’s time to move aside for the new person.