This year makes thirty-five that I have been a career firefighter and thirty-seven since I first walked into a firehouse as a member. That doesn’t take into account the years I spent growing up in the business, with my father, uncles, grandfather, etc. all serving in various roles and departments. I was asked the other day why I wanted to be a firefighter, which isn’t the first time I have heard the question. I guess it is just that having been an officer on the job for over three decades, I was actually wondering why I wanted to remain one.
There is a certain divisiveness and nastiness that has taken its toll on “brotherhood”. I’m thinking it is more a symbol of the times: I was on a Jeep forum and a woman asked a very innocuous question about the nomenclature for a part and was blasted as “stupid” and told things like “If you don’t know what that’s called, you should drive something else.” It doesn’t surprise me then that the same discussions are seen on fire service threads. Fortunately for me, I had some amazing role models, between my family and the friends of my family. If I had been subjected to the kind of abuse I see out there now and not having those kinds of mentors, I don’t know that I would stay in this element.
There’s a difference between a little ragging and the contemptuous, constantly holier-than-thou attitudes of some of our more visible fire service educators. The total dismissal of credibility I have seen from those who consider themselves “salty” firefighters doesn’t sit well with me. I’ve seen plenty of fire in my time and had sufficient exposure to what does and doesn’t work. I guess I just don’t have a need to rub someone’s nose in their lack of experience to make me feel better about myself.
I am not entirely comfortable with the PC approach to leading personnel. I do agree with embracing respect and understanding different ways to lead, but sometimes personnel do need to be asked “What the **** are you thinking?” If anything, it captures their attention. But different viewpoints also provide perspective, and I find myself open to ideas at the right time and place, and I encourage creative thinking and innovation, even if it flies in the face of tradition. There are those in our ranks who simply refuse to see anything but what they want to see, and at the peril of perhaps changing the job to make it more effective. And yes, sometimes “more effective” does mean “safer”.
I have some big decisions to make this year and a lot to think about. But when asked why I wanted to be a firefighter, I guess the answer is that I felt like I could make a difference. So here I am, and while I feel like I have done that, I realize I have a lot of work ahead of me to keep that up. So therefore, I need to remain a good officer to provide positive mentoring and to honor our brotherhood by leading in the next generation.