What Kind of Person Are We After Anyway?

With all of the discussion about arsonist firefighters, some of the most extensive coverage has been done by Dave Statter over at the STAT911 blog.  I have been following the information with a great deal of concern because I, like many of you, take my profession very seriously, and when I read stories about the wannabe heroes out there who light fires in the name of drumming up some action, it makes me sick.

There has been other discussion on Firefighter Nation in light of a post by Tim Sendelbach about the type of people that firefighting draws in and essentially suggests that setting the bar low sets us up for nothing but disappointment (because we will reap what we sow) and if we raise our expectations and require a higher standard, and inspire others to achieve, we will likely be more happy with the outcome.

And then there is the whole other discussion that was written by my friend Chief Reason on whether we should be even considering ourselves heroes or not and he gave a very good case for “not”, but I can’t seem to find the link.

Do we really want the adrenaline junkie or do we want to find a mature individual who takes the oath to “prevent and protect” against fire to heart?  Who among us doesn’t have at least one story about a member who was just a little too zealous for his/her own good?  Wouldn’t you rather enter a building with a firefighter whose nickname was “Crusty” rather than the one whose nickname is “Whacker”?

In South Carolina, it is required by law that ALL firefighters, career or volunteer, are registered with the State Fire Marshal, and all are required to undergo a background check.  Now I have done background checks on prospective babysitters that have cleared and the person came across like a lunatic, so I can’t say that I put a LOT of credence in them, but just the act of running a criminal record on some people would hopefully keep some of the wrong people away.

If we are bringing people into our departments that we wouldn’t trust in our own homes, we really need to look hard at what we are settling with and exactly why it is that we are settling for them.  If we seriously take a step back, is it because of a lack of interested people, or is it that what we offer isn’t enough to do the job?  That could be in money, but could also mean in rewarding and challenging volunteer work as well.

What can we do to entice the right people to come work with us?  What can we do to change the culture of a lot of testosterone and excitement and to bring in people who really get it?  Someday, hopefully we will all realize that maybe it’s not so much that the fire service needs to change, so much as the culture of those who serve in it with us.

1 Comment

  • Freddie M. Bell says:

    I think there are two issues presented: a) what type of individual is desired; and b)how to verify the individual isn’t harboring “undesireable” baggage. I’ll toss in my two cents on the issues…

    First, is it all bad if a candidate is an adrenaline junkie? If he/she exhibits a liking for the job, can the energy be focused (with education and training) toward making a more effective and efficient stop on the fire or property loss? A love for the job and the drive that goes with it can be channeled towards performing a better size-up, more quickly getting the first line in operation, or getting the roof vented. This question does come with a caveat: the company officer charged with day-to-day training of these individuals will have his hands full!

    Lastly, how effective is the fire service (both paid and volunteer) at filtering undesireable candidates from the system? Background checks can be effective at identifying previous criminal history, but are not perfect. Dealing with previous employers may not be effective because of legal issues. Checking around the community can provide information not available on the application, but takes time.

    Somewhere in the process you have to ask: would I want this person in MY home?; would I allow this person to care for my mother, father, wife, or children?; would I allow them to care for me? If any answers are “No”, then consideration should be given toward removing them from the process.

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