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Today in the fire service there are many different barriers that we all face everyday.  Technology, growing scope of responsibility, and life in general are challenges that each and every company officer, chief, and Administrator face when it comes to forming the fire department camaraderie of old.  We often hear the brotherhood is dead, the new generation is lazy, and on and on and on.  The fact is, we can complain (and firefighters will we know) or we can seek out new and innovative ways to make it better.

We need to reform our leadership practices to ensure that we leave the fire service stronger and more adapted than it was the day we swore our oath.  Today, you have folks who saw the internet, text messages, and email formed riding directly with people who have no idea how to send a letter or balance a checkbook (or even what one was is).  So knowing this implementing out dated policies and maintaining archeaic ways of dealing with firefighters is not only negative in some ways it is negligent.

South Carolina Basketball Coach Frank Martin had some great thoughts on the subject of the younger generation, he said: "In today's society we demand less from children, expect less from them and then we blame them when they make mistakes as adults".  

Also, he went on to say:

 “You know what makes me sick to my stomach? When I hear grown people say that kids have changed. Kids haven’t changed. Kids don’t know anything about anything We’ve changed as adults. We demand less of kids. We expect less of kids. We make their lives easier instead of preparing them for what life is truly about. We’re the ones that have changed. To blame kids is a cop-out.”

We have all sat around the fire house and said the new generation isn't cut out for our job, or that they only like phones, or social media and never worked for anything.  Well, you know what, we can all push away from the table and make them earn something, and show them our culture, without being a condescending bitter old guy.  This generation has adaptability many of us can't comprehend.  Additionally, they have resources that none of us had that can help the mission, and some of our home life.  I mean lets face it, if you are in the market for that 86 Ford Suspension piece you need to fix up the junk truck you have, the new guy will find it somewhere online.  Hell, they aren't even scared to email, message, text, one of the authors of a fire service book that you read and want to connect with.  I have been a part of a conversation about standpipes where someone said: "Boy, I'd love to talk to this Dave McGrail Guy" to which a two year firefighter said: "Here you want his number, I got it at HROC last month".  Connection of this new generation to everywhere is unprecedented so use it to help you grow.

The firefighters coming in the door do have much to offer some of the old timers.  They have a ton of energy, and most of all they have greater curiosity, and desire to understand than their predecessors.  This is a major reason why so many in the fire service struggle with the younger folks; they ask questions, and want real answers.  You see, they have had answers to everything from who is the 23rd president to what the capital of South Dakota is at their fingertips and instantaneously since they could read and write.  The new folks want answers, and if you give some BS "Because I said so" they will make a fool of you, because they will find an actual factual based answer.  

Fire service leaders must understand that their needs to be adaptability built into to their leadership styles, but all the while maintain some of the institutional culture your department desires.  We must tap into the energy and curiosity of this new group coming in the door.  They are the group that has made the fire service a smaller place by encouraging social media networking across the country, they are the ones who see an article on something during the Facebook browsing and suggest it as a training topic.  One challenge is that this can lead to them becoming "Social Media Firefighters" .  

Too many young folks feel that watching a video is experience, which we all know it isn't.  Then this leads to "Training Companies" made up of folks with 10 years on the job with 20 years in Life.  We must be careful to "Check the Resume" of some of the sources of our new folks as Nick Martin posted a few years back( Martin, N., 2015).  As the senior members, we must be open to new ideas, but blend them with our time proven ideas that come from experience, not from You Tube.  They need to understand that likes don't mean something works.  The drill ground and the fire ground prove those things, and both can be unforgiving and honest.  

There is a substantial amount of research on the new generation and understanding them, so look over it, a simple google search will help you locate it.  If you don't know what that is, go look at the new guy and ask them to google it.  Quit complaining about the new folks and get out there and mold them into the firefighters they need to be, all the while using their strengths.  Don't sit there and expect them to understand what we do, because the gratin before you didn't do that to you, and if they did they failed you.  Don't act like there is nothing to do and the sky is falling because new people are here, remember every generation complains about the generation after them.

Citations:

Martin, N. (2015) "Check the Resume", Fire Engineering Blog Post. https://community.fireengineering.com/profiles/blog/show?id=1219672...

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Comment by Nick J. Salameh on December 13, 2018 at 9:16am

Good article and plenty of information to consider.

It's interesting some say the new generation is not to blame for being different, but rather their parents are for the way they were raised.  Consider the influence senior firefighters have in the fire station and how that influence negatively affects the new folks.  In many cases the established firefighters can be viewed as the parents in some respect. 

If we are complaining and criticizing them all the time rather than training them up, boosting their self esteem, value and use their differences in a positive and appreciated manner, we need only look in the mirror to see whose to blame at the fire station level.

Fire departments around the country do what they can to increase diversity so firefighters better reflect the communities they serve.  However, diversity goes well beyond race, color, age, religious preference, etc.  Fact is, the new generation is diverse in many ways, but when they join the fire service they are forced to conform to many of our standards.  Everyone goes through the same testing hurdles physically and academically to get the job, pass recruit school, and the many hurdles that follow once they are assigned to a station.  Why are we complaining, they've all done it the same way by our own department standards. 

Recognize their strengths and teach them.  Stop complaining and using them as an excuse.  If you are failing the new firefighter you are failing yourself and your department.  There is much to be learned and appreciated on both sides.  Many times the frustration we direct at others is a sign of the frustration we really have with ourselves.

Comment by John Lightly on December 6, 2018 at 6:45pm

I agree with you.  We often blame the younger crowd when, in reality, we just don't wish to put forth any effort to train, show, teach, work with them.  Nice article.

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