Where has the passion gone? In my personal experience with life in general, we have become a self-centered population. Everything is about “me” and the fire service has seemingly become no different, many places are putting “we” first instead of “them”. It is true that many people just don’t seem to have the desire or the passion for the job that at one time they did, some never had it at all. This job will take a lot from you... and, yes, there will be times that it will take everything you have and it’s important that you are taking steps to leave this service better than you found it.
I write this article on the heels of several recent events and lots of self-reflection. I have been involved with the fire service now for 14 years and, if you didn’t already know, it is the most amazing career that you could dream of. I wouldn’t change my last 14 years for the world. There have been many highs and many lows throughout my career, but I can look back and know that I have been truly blessed to serve great communities and work with some excellent firefighters and human beings.
From the time that I entered the fire service I knew it was for me, it was a calling and there had been nothing so evident in my life than the desire to serve others and be involved in this great piece of American history. This service isn’t just a job for me... it’s a personal connection, a calling, and a lifestyle. I promise that if each day when you head into work you make it a personal mission for you, you’ll work a little harder. Each day find your why and commit to getting a little better! Commit to leaving this service better than you found it. While I have found many personal “whys” throughout my career, building relationships with those within my community and the ones that I work with are so important to me. They are a huge part of my commitment to get better each day. The fact is that we never know where the next call is going to be or for whom we may be called upon to act, it may be for a stranger, a close friend, a brother or a sister. Whoever the call may be for, my commitment to be better is for them! If nothing else, do it for the brothers and sisters who stepped into the firehouse before you and risked their lives, some paying the ultimate sacrifice...we owe that to them.
It’s not easy to understand what a firefighter endures throughout their career and life afterward. If you would have asked me about the moments and challenges that I would endure before my career began, I would have been clueless. I was a small-town kid growing up in a farm town with little exposure outside of our two stop lights. I thought the fire service was all glory... I would soon find out that it was quite the contrary and that true grit was a necessity. I have witnessed people’s highest highs and I have seen, more than I like to recall, people’s lowest lows. Some sights, smells, and sounds will carry on through our minds forever. I also never once expected the conviction I would feel when a child tells me they want to be a firefighter, one of us. When I first began this journey, I thought “of course you kids do, who wouldn’t?”. As years have passed, my perspective changed. and I began to wonder “Am I really worth being some kids dream?”. The public is watching you, they trust you with their most loved ones. Be worth being!
If you let it, after several years on the job, complacency and burnout will creep in. I’d be lying to you if I said I have never been complacent or felt burnt out. It’s important that we are taking steps every day for our own mental health. It’s important that every day we seek to find our passion for the job and remember the “why” you started this job. No one forced you here, you swore an oath to serve and protect the community that has placed their trust in you- to put them first! As “Fit to Fight Fire” says, “they expect you to have your best day, on their worst day”. I can’t tell you how true that statement is. Throughout my experience, I have learned that even when things go completely right the outcome may not be the one desired. I’ve learned to accept that those times are unfortunately part of the job. What I personally cannot accept (and you shouldn’t either) is failure without preparation. I lost my dad unexpectedly at a young age and you can be damn sure that I expected each one of those responders to be the best they could that night...and I believe they were. Ultimately when we signed up, when we fell in love with this job, that is why we SHOULD have signed up, to serve others and put them first. Being complacent for a moment can affect the outcome of a family’s life forever. Don’t let that happen!
I have a beautiful family whom I love so much. They endure the life of a firefighter’s spouse and firefighter’s kids... missed birthdays, school events, anniversaries, and holidays. Keep in mind that your kids didn’t sign up for that, and to an extent, it’s hard for anyone to understand what that life is like until they are in it. I’ve been so lucky to have the people in my life that are there. I recently listened to Mark VonAppen speak and many of his words resonated with me. He reminded us to not hold on too tight. Over the past several weeks I’ve allowed that to sink in and have done some personal reflection of my own life at home and at work. This year make sure you don’t hold on too tight. Don’t love the job so much that you miss those right in front of you. I’m not telling you to not love the job, but make sure that you are doing everything you can for your community when you are at work and for your family when you aren’t. You must allow yourself some mental relaxation. Ultimately it all ties together for me. I work hard to be better at my job for the community and my family. Competence is the best way to accomplish safety. I work hard so that I am ready for the community, so that I can be there for them, and afterwards, I can go love on my family. As a matter of fact, I’m telling you to love the job, be passionate, and respect it. Love it enough to leave the frustrations at work and build your relationships at home so that when you come back to work, you have ensured that you are leaving your family in a healthy place.