Published Saturday, August 25, 2012
| From the October 2012 Issue of FireRescue
Dear Nozzlehead: I recently moved to the South and finally got that “paid” job I’ve been working toward since I was 16. I was ecstatic to finally get a paycheck to do what I’ve always loved doing. I was raised in a fire family and, from the start, was taught the pride, tradition, history and true purpose of the fire service, which instilled in me a desire to always do the best I can, have the cleanest equipment (even if it’s not the newest), save even the little things during overhaul (if possible) and aggressively but safely “get after it.”
The department I’ve joined is a combination fire/EMS department—and there’s a problem. The long story short: We run one-person engines with five medic units in the county, and the engines basically do all the actual firefighting because the engineers are the only ones on their rigs. Although not ideal, I thought I could deal with this issue, but after being here a few months, things have deteriorated to the point that I am questioning if I even want to remain in the fire service.
Department morale is non-existent. And pride? They might have had it 50 years ago. Trucks stay dirty, and “training” consists of watching videos on YouTube! My lieutenant will openly admit that he doesn’t care one bit about that damn red truck and only wants to be a medic. Decisions on scene boggle the mind. For example, so worried about a backdraft in a double-wide with very light white smoke showing and windows still clear, they waited almost 10 minutes before going through the door—and it turned out to be a couch fire. These are just a few of the operational issues that have sucked the motivation, excitement and joy out of what I thought was supposed to be a great job.
Is this normal? I feel like I already know the answer, but I’m so discouraged at this point I don’t really know anymore. Should I get out early while I’m still young and start all over, keeping myself in top shape and studying all I can for the next test—or stick around? I don’t trust the majority of the guys I work with, and I’m tired of trying to be happy and motivated, only to have it sucked away by the officers and several other firefighters during every shift. But I’m afraid that quitting now (before having another fire service job) would look bad on future applications—like I lack dedication. Being someone whose articles I read almost religiously and having a lot of respect for you and your experience, I would just appreciate some advice on the best way to further my career.
—Frustrated & Confused
Dear Frustrated and Confused,
Because you’re in the South, I’ll quote a movie you may be familiar with: “RUN, FORREST, RUUUUNNNN!!!” Get the hell out of that fire department as soon as possible. Seriously. I’m sure some are looking for my answer to be enlightening, motivating and encouraging … well, OK fine; let’s try that.
- Work hard to increase your staffing from ONE firefighter on the engine.
- Get everyone to rally around you to clean the apparatus so it reflects department pride.
- Establish training to help the firefighters learn how to make entry and get water on a mobile home fire.
Can you pull that off? Actually, after I wrote that, it dawned on me that YOUR CHIEF should be responsible for getting that done—not you. Perhaps it could be you or some other unofficial leader, but odds are that there is no way an organization like yours, which is so thinly disguised as a fire/EMS department, actually wants to BE a fire/EMS department.
This isn’t a paid or volunteer issue—and most issues rarely are these days; this is a department issue. I too have been affiliated with a few departments in my career, and I have visited well staffed, well trained and very professional volunteer departments that do an incredible job—one that can be counted on in their community and by their neighboring departments.
However, I have also known many volunteer departments that are fooling the public. They don’t train, they still elect leaders based on popularity (without qualifications), they can’t get a rig on the road in the appropriate amount of time, and when they do, the members are clueless due to failed leadership, no training, no standards, no training, no discipline and no training. Training (both initial and ongoing) must continue until the day you retire; it is the FOUNDATION of a solid, reliable and effective company or department.
Bottom line: Absolutely get out because time is on your side. Take whatever tests you need to take and do a little digging around at the departments to which you apply so you’re not surprised again. Additionally, make sure that YOU bring good stuff to them. Make sure YOUR morale is what it needs to be, that YOUR dedication is unwavering, that YOU are taking as many courses that you can (fire and EMS) and that YOU will be a positive addition to your next home. But until then, give 110% to the department to which you currently belong, because while they may not be the top place around, they did make a good decision once … to hire you. Leave the place better than you found it! Maybe even clean the trucks yourself. Maybe your positive attitude will impact the others and the joint will change. And then all will be right with the world, Tinker Bell.
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