The fire department is in trouble and it is all our fault…..
It started with the “all hazards” approach we took on EMS which made sense and still does but then Haz-mat, technical rescue, water rescue, dive rescue, drones, and everything else out there we could add to our service.
Then we told the world “anyone can be a firefighter; we will even train you” what this got us was employees that only looked at us as a secondary option or back up plan with a great schedule and even greater benefits. I heard this the other day and I agree if the same people got the offer to play a piano 10 days a month, with the same benefits of a firefighter they would sign up in a heartbeat, and have no more interest in playing the piano than they do being firefighters. It has turned into a contractual obligation NOT a desired career path. This has even manifested itself in our leadership who use the fire department to catapult themselves into Government appointed or elected positions.
Lastly, we adopted organizational management philosophy based on metrics, and office-based culture that kills the brotherhood and firehouse atmosphere. This breeds firefighters who don’t eat together, rarely look up from their phone, and say they are being singled out when asked to train on basic fire ground skills. Then if you press or hold them accountable the go straight to Human Resources.
However, all hope is not lost, rouge cells of passionate fireman all over the country are popping up daily. They take shape in the form of articles, blogs, podcasts, books, conferences, and social media pages. They daily stretch, make it worth the risk, make it about them, and various other tag lines. They push forward everyday only to get beaten down by their departments, passed over for promotion, and get told they are not “politically correct”. They can be found stretching lines, throwing ladders, reading articles, and on their days off buffing jobs from places they don’t even work. The skills they acquire often being overlooked for spreadsheets, and management ability, ignoring the value of fire ground leadership. They don’t let this stop them, because they know when the chips are down, they will be the ones called upon, so they grind even unappreciated and undervalued.
This is a call to action, to get OUR fire service back, how you ask? FIREMANSHIP above all else in everything we do! Every decision made should be what is best for firefighting. NOT EVERYONE can do this job, that doesn’t mean you can’t learn it, it does mean it takes special people to do it. We have to stop acting like people did us a favor by applying, WE DID THEM A FAVOR BY ALLOWING THEM TO DO THE GREATEST JOB IN THE WORLD! We are not an organization we are the FIRE DEPARTMENT referring to what we do as an organization marginalizes everything we do, we are more than an organization, we have more at stake, we have more skin in the game. Firefighting skills FIRST! Pump operator training should not be canceled to drive a boat. Stretch lines, throw ladders, force doors, talk tactics, read, watch fire videos, all of those things should come before the first “special” skill on the docket.
Simply put we need fireman, officers, Chiefs who want nothing more in this world than the be fireman! We have allowed less than that for far to long. The road to getting back will not be easy. To many employees have infiltrated our ranks and our leadership, but slowly we can make this job great again. Plant the seed in the next generations of fireman, instill firemanship in them and begin to take back our fire service.