The fire service is a unique place to say the least. Right or wrong, from the moment you walk in the doors of the firehouse or training academy you are being judged. Not just because it’s the fire service, but because it’s human nature. Now, don’t get me wrong, as a new person in the fire service it is fully your responsibility to be an upstanding, motivated, dedicated and knowledge hungry individual. You certainly should be the first person to initiate things and the last person to stop doing everything. It is your job to learn as much as possible and prove that you have what it takes to be a productive part of the fire service. It should never be expected that people will give you anything. However, it is certainly expected that you must earn everything. Being the new person in a firehouse means you go through the same rite of passage as those before you. By no means should this be a surprise to anyone. Nor should you think that you are special and don’t have to go through the same process as everyone else. Not only would that be unacceptable, it would be disrespectful.
So, if new people are expected to earn their way and/or “do the right thing”, how do they figure out how to do it? Do you or your department(s) have anything officially (unofficially) explaining this? It seems to have become commonplace that some senior/experienced members of the fire service expect that each new person miraculously know exactly what to do and how to do it. When they fail at an assumption, the new firefighters are immediately placed into “this person is horrible” category. It is actually mindboggling how fast some “good firefighters” will “write-off” a new firefighter because of their mistake(s), etc. What this is in-fact doing is making future generations of mediocre, ill-prepared firefighters. Think about it; if each generation of firefighters writes-off the next we will certainly lose our way. A few years down the road our firefighters will be less effective, less efficient and our good traditions will become nearly extinct. So, why have we become this way? Why would we discount someone rather than mentor them? The answers are certainly out there and surely each individual case has a different answer. One thing is certain, we need to find a solution and dedicate ourselves to assuring that the firefighters to come are afforded all of our knowledge, etc.
A good example of this scenario was brought up to me the other day. It involves an engine company that will remain name and numberless. The OIC, whom is a senior member (well over 20-years on the job) of his department, has taken the time to work with his “rookie” over the past three-months. Each day, advancing lines, setting-up master streams, pumping/drafting, performing water supply procedures, learning the immediate and outlining response areas, etc. His rookie firefighter came to him with ZERO experience. After this three-month period, said rookie firefighter is beginning to “get it”. It has certainly been no easy feat. Yet, something started to become noticeable while the OIC was passing on his knowledge and experience. Other members from the rookie’s recruit school started to attend the drills on their DAY OFF, from other companies! Not only was the OIC surprised by this, but what they stated to him was shocking. Each of them stated that they were coming to attend drills on their days off because they weren’t being taught at their respective firehouses. It obviously took him back, as it did me as well.
In the aforementioned case, WE are certainly the reason that “bad firefighters” are being produced and accepted. This means that it’s our responsibility to right our wrongs and assure that others are aware when they are condoning this. We will never get to the fire service we all strive for if we don’t take action against this culture now. It will ruin what those that come before us fought hard to obtain.