A Job or a Title?
A job or a title is a question that should go through a chief’s mind when hiring in new folks or promoting, are they here for the job or are they here for the title, we all know some of the t-shirt and badge glory boys, right?
The fire service takes a big hit on this subject from many different points, the folks that actually want to be a firefighter and learn the job are being crushed by the others that just want a t-shirt and a badge. Meaning the ones here for a title are typically the ones that rarely show up and if they do, they are standing around because they are lost and don’t know what to do. In todays time we have bystanders with their phones out and making videos, criticizing the department for their actions. The ones with the videos are perceived as the most knowledgeable as they are the ones narrating the incident, right? But that’s all the public sees and hears, so that’s all the public knows. It’s a fact that bad news travels faster than good news and given these circumstances or just someone simply bad mouthing the fire department you will have negativity towards your department. Now, multiply that by a 3-year period and then try to recruit folks to be volunteer firefighters on your department. Have I named off all the fire service recruitment problems in one paragraph? Not even close but I gave an example of one that can be overcome.
We will always have negativity, we will always have bad mouthing and its safe to say that we will always have cameras facing us now too. So, let’s get some in house incentives going to try to motivate the working firefighters to help motivate the “Title Seekers”, it is possible. Remember that everyone has their place in the fire service and everyone has a job suitable for them so chief officers before you put anyone down or constantly discipline folks, ask yourself “What have you done to try to fix the problem? What training have you offered or arranged? What conversations have you had offering your knowledge and/or seeking their knowledge level? Folks, we have many titles in the fire service but there is nothing wrong with making your own either. I know folks that will arrive on scene of a residential fire, they may not be comfortable in interior operations yet, so they will set up rehab, get the SCBA tarp out and have full bottles ready to go, they will have ventilation fans off and started along with chain saws. They know their comfort zone and on volunteer departments that’s important because now everyone is busy and there is a system in place. You’ve minimized if not eliminated the standing around and helped minimize the perceived image of “they let my house burn”.
We can also keep the public informed of what is going on, remember don’t hide anything or hide the bad stuff either, always be open and honest with the public, but only with the facts and not anyone’s personal opinions. Use social media to your advantage, you can advertise many things on there and post your incidents as well. The public is interested in what goes on in their area, but also be helpful, advertise safety advice such as storm warnings and/or updates, chimney cleaning tips, space heater usage tips etc. The public will then start relaying on your page for advice and updates. Have open houses, invite the public in and let them see the hard work that’s been done, show them the flaws in equipment and in the fire houses, and as time goes on make sure to give updates on the flaws. In the long run, you will build the trust of more citizens than you think.
Develop expectations for your firefighters and for your chief officers. Some have monthly, quarterly and/or annual expectations. If you have members that only shows up once every 3 months and there are no repercussions for it then that tells the other members that its ok not to show up. The expectation must start at the top and go down, we have all heard the term lead by example, right? So be a leader not a boss. We also hear the term brotherhood, now I am sure I will step on some toes here, but Brotherhood is thrown around a lot more than it is actually followed. Traditionally, brotherhood was a solemn oath to face danger and fear and even give life, if necessary, for a brother. It was not a matter of receiving but a matter of giving. It was not a matter of avoiding personal accountability. It was a matter of accepting responsibility. It was not a matter of being forgiven any sin. It was a matter of avoiding sin and living up to the standards of honor required to be a member of the brotherhood. There was a stark difference between whether you were liked, or even loved, and your actions. A firefighter always knew they would always have the love and support of their brothers. They also knew that they would never be allowed to dishonor others by their own actions and be allowed to continue in their company. They were required to embrace and live specific values and ethics if they were to have the honor of being a brother!
Chiefs and Chief Officers, it is up to you to lead your members, to keep the moral raised, the ethics and professionalism top notch. Educate your members on the traditions and history of your own department and of the fire service in general. Don’t perceive yourself as a better firefighter on social media than you are in real life. Most importantly respect the fire service, respect your members and respect your job. Volunteer Chiefs, no matter if you are a career firefighter or not, if you don’t have time to fulfill your job and your fire service position then respect it enough to step down. There is nothing wrong with that as it will show the respect you have for the fire service. Chief officers have much higher expectations and it is understood that it is tough in the volunteer setting to maintain a professional and educated volunteer department but remember, you signed up to be there when someone is having the worst day of their life, if your family activities or social life keeps you too busy to fulfill the position then step down. Think about your house burning or your family needing help, be the guy you want to be there. Go back up and re-read the true meaning of brotherhood and do what is right.
In the end we all want what is right, many have the heart of caring for others, in many cases the problem of dedication and/or attendance is not heart, it’s the time away from family and/or friends. But that’s ok, if our members are really understanding the brotherhood then they will establish an equal balance. Involve your family as much as possible, have gatherings and/or dinners. Let the wives have a night out together etc. there are many ways to get the family involved to help with the balance. Do what is right and keep the real brotherhood alive.
December 27, 2018