What Does It Take To Be A Firefighter Anyway?

Being a firefighter is real work and not for the faint of heart. If dirt bothers you, go get another job.

We should make getting into the fire service at least as hard as trying to get into the NFL. If everyone wanted to be a firefighter when they were growing up, most of us also probably wanted to play football. The NFL has all kinds of hurdles to cross to get a job there: the Wonderlick, the combine, scouting, etc. In some fire departments, all you have to do is fog a mirror, and even then, I wonder if that is even a requirement.

When all hell has broke loose in our lives, who better to see than the fire department?  If the people we are recruiting can’t even solve the simplest of daily problems, what makes us think that at 0200 with the roof falling in on us that there will be sudden improvement in judgement and reasoning?  It again goes to my post of the other day about being cognizant of what we do and don’t know.  Some of these folks are so sure of what they think they know, that it makes them dangerous to those of us who know that we can’t possibly know everything.

Thus the survival instinct of the crustiest among us: situational awareness.  We know that with Murphy lurking around every corner and maintaining a skeptical eye on most every situation, we aren’t entirely surprised when things go wrong, because we figured that they would anyway.  It’s like some of the newer guys I talk to think that just because they studied it at the Fire Academy, it is going to go like the plan at every incident.  I don’t know how you teach someone to be a little less optimistic, but if we can figure out how to do that, we might get some of the problem licked.

But that isn’t all; there’s something to be said about the mentality of “heavy lifting” that escapes some of our new hires around the nation.  They seem to think that the problem is solved when we arrive and that it’s all going to be blood and glory.  Then they become disenchanted when they’re mopping up vomit off of Mrs. Smith’s kitchen floor after the rig has taken her to the hospital.  Our job requires us to tough it up and do what is necessary, whether we like it or not.

A little less bitching and a little more effort would go a long way.  Your truck isn’t running perfectly?  Well, sorry: For years I held apparatus together with duct tape and superglue.  Suck it up and do your job.  If something doesn’t work, roll with it.  I took a lot of pride in knowing that I could do whatever job necessary with whatever I had with me, or at least knowing where I could make something work in the meanwhile.  Nowadays it seems like if the least little thing goes wrong, people are throwing their hands in the air and giving up.

So here’s what it comes down to: We must figure out a way to test individuals for resiliency and determination, while also measuring their ability to understand that if they want the glory job, they should have probably worked harder for that baseball scholarship. There is no glory in our job.  Put away the wacker lights and the Bad-Ass Firefighter t-shirt and know your role.  If you aren’t out running calls, be grateful that you get to have a night of sleep and that no one became homeless last night because their house burned.  And if glory and fame is what you want, go form a posse and hang out with Lindsey Lohan or something.  We’ve got a job to do.


  • Well Put Mick –

    Having just graduated 50 new firefighters from our Firefighter 1 Boot Camp on Friday, I certainly agree with your sentiments.

    I repeatedly reinforced the notion that if it were easy, anyone could do it. And when they can’t — they call the fire department.

    I have stressed to the volunteer fire service for years that we need to focus more on quality and less on quantity. Quantity for the sake of quantity costs us time, energy and money that we have less and less of every day.

  • Freddie M. Bell says:

    Glad to see the much needed reminder that our job isn’t always about blood, gore, cameras, and happily cheering citizens. Gaining a firefighter badge should be much tougher than getting into a professional sport. I expect much out of my firefighters and not much of anything from most professional sports figures.

    Thank you for the reminder.

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