Let's Talk Fire: 5 Traits Every Firefighter Should Stay Clear Of
As always anytime I write something a few vain people want to assume it is about them. That being said this article is meant for educational reasons and is in no way about any individual or department. With that being said if you feel this article has been directed at you instead of resorting to childish internet games contact me and we can work it out like adults.
Limit this behavior!
Welcome back to another exciting round of Let's Talk Fire. I promise this article will be shorter than an Obama speech and at least three times as long as a Rhonda Rousey fight. All joking aside in the past we have poured a lot of research and work into traits and behaviors every firefighter should have and practice. This time around however we are going to flip the switch if you will and explore 5 traits that are unfitting of a firefighter in any regard be it paid or volunteer. These traits and behaviors are harmful to the department, the service, and to you as an individual so if you are exhibiting any of these or see them in your ranks for God's sakes put a stop to them as soon as possible.
These five unhealthy characteristics can be more damaging to your department than a mid season forest fire budget cut, (ever fight a forest fire with a super soaker?) These traits will not be presented in any specific order of importance as each holds it's own ground when causing enormous issues within the department.
Curiousity killed the cat. Complacency killed the firefighter. Every fire we respond to will have some similar characteristics. Smoke and heat are a given and of course we get to enjoy that molotov cocktail of deadly gasses that make fires so much fun. The fact is not every fire is the same. Maybe one house will have natural gas while another depends souly on electricity to function as a living dwelling. Maybe we have a low CO reading in one structure and at the next we encounter a meth lab just waiting for us to come in.
We have to approach every fire as a new experience. No two fires will be exactly alike and when we allow ourselves to think they are we put our situational awareness on autopilot. This makes us assume that a fire is routine. Assuming makes an ass out of you and me my friend and I for one don't wear the donkey tag to willingly, how about you?
Sure maybe the last two structure fires your crew responded to were basic stroll in and knock out the fire and go back to the fire station to some probie bashing. Who is to say that the next one won't be the same way? But, what if at the next one Mr. Owesalotofmoney has decided to bring his house down for insurance money and has cut holes in front of all the doors so we get to visit the basement quick, fast and in a hurry? Maybe we did not realize there was two points of origin and while we have dealt with the one in the living area we did not even imagine there was one in the attic dealing irreversible damage to light weight wooden trusses and we have a roof collapse?
Always be aware of your situation and your surroundings and monitor repeatedly for changes in either of the two. Complacency is not helpful nor is it healthy and I assure you many of firefighters who treated a scene as routine did not get to the last step, which is going home. You can rest assured they did not die in vain as long as we are willing to learn from their mistakes and take that knowledge and use it to better what we do as firefighters.
The lazy firefighter in action.
I hate, yes I threw the gloves of political correctness off and said hate, lazy firefighters. Nothing gets my pumps grinding like a firefighter who puts no effort into drills, events, or any activity the fire service requires of them. They make no emotional investment in the fire department and it really puts a false stigma on all of us. I have drug hose, fully charged by the way, across a football sized field by myself because a firefighter was just to lazy to come give me a hand with it. You always see Mr. Lazy on the back of the truck doing nothing but holding a radio.
When a firefighter refuses to contribute to anything required of them as a firefighter you will have a huge problem on your hands. Sadly in the volunteer service this could be an indicator of bad things to come because the lazy firefighter skips training but always seems to show up to the scene. In the volunteer service we are always so short staffed and having a firefighter who is poorly trained and won't commit means you have a loose cannon on your hands.
We should have a self image that we see as a reflection of a true firefighter just like the media and the public have of us. That image is one we need to uphold and realize that at all times our communities are watching us. A great instructor of mine once said "we love the attaboys we get. Save a life atta boy, save a house attaboy, but sadly one oh shit will ruin a life time of attaboys because the public and the media tend to focus and remember more the oh shit".
If they see two firefighter going right at the fire and then see two guys sitting on the truck BSing they will not brag on the two who were working hard but harp on the two who were not. We are only as strong as the weakest link and one lazy link will threaten the integrity and structure of the whole chain. I am not saying spend 12 hours a day at the station but at least put in effort to be a part of what you signed up for.
The green eyed monster is one that unfortunately rears it's ugly head in the fire service more times than we can to admit. It has many guises and many ways of presenting itself and each is just as harmful as the last.
It could present itself between two members of the same department. Maybe Bill felt he was next in line for that captain position and since Randell got it he is exhibiting ill feelings toward Randel and the personnel board who made the decision to put someone else in that position. This type of jealousy can cause a lot of hurt and hard feelings from one firefighter to another and create a real gap within the ranks as other firefighters are brought into the argument and are forced to choose a side.
Maybe one firefighter felt their calling was to be on the hose and they are not happy with being placed on the vent crew. They may develop a jealous tendency toward the attack crew and this could lead to some serious disagreements and maybe in an extreme case an accident.
Solving this form of jealousy is a bit more practical than you would think. Department heads need to meet with the persons involved and go over why they feel this way and why decisions were made the way they were. Job evaluations and skill testing could be all it takes to remedy this type of jealous behavior.
Jealousy may also present itself between two neighboring departments. This is a lot more difficult to deal with. Perhaps one department is flourishing and doing very well while another is struggling just to keep it's doors open. This could lead to a jealous behavior and the spread of rumors that ultimately lead to our jobs being taken less serious than they need to be.
Maybe a few firefighters have left one department for another under bad circumstances. Again a jealous mentality will lead to gossip which leads to childish behavior and so on. This is not how we should be acting as firefighters and is not how the public needs to see us. First when a firefighter leaves a department we should never assume the reason to be anything other than a personal decision. If we know for a fact it was otherwise and there were underlying issues those are issues that should be kept within the walls of the station, not broadcast to the public in an attempt to lessen the respect another department or firefighter has.
I have seen members of departments refuse to respond as mutual aid because of issues derived from jealous mentalities. It is not what we should do nor how we should act. Jealousy creates a hostile work environment and in other words and unsafe work environment and let's be honest, don't we deal with enough of that as firefighters.
Strong Leadership Trumps Strong Ego
Even in today's evolving fire service we are still seeing firefighters who refuse to accept that they do not know everything about the fire service. They are so blatantly full of themselves that it becomes impossible to take them serious or listen to anything they say.
Ego disgraces our job more than most things and can create some serious tension in the workforce. I have seen firefighters who refuse to adapt to changes and refuse to accept their way may not be the best way of dealing with a particular problem. They don't care to tell you how good they are and how everyone needs to step up to their level when in fact generally speaking they are the bottom tier of their departments. They look at every scene simply as a way to boost their fragile ego and make theirselves look good. This behavior is obvious tragic and can harm a department severely.
They spend valuable training time boasting and telling war stories and when they are not doing that they are busy arguing with the instructor over how their method is right. It's sad and in reality is a terrible way to approach the act and art of firefighting.
Ego is an unapproachable personality trait and one that can hinder how the company sees you and how you see yourself. I always say I would love to buy the egomaniac on the department for what they are worth and sell them for what they think they are worth. These are your typical jerks and they show it in full light and don't seem to think they have a problem with it.
We should be all about helping people because it is the right thing to do. Most of us got into this line of work for that reason, well that and to slide down those wicked poles. I can't tell you how many times I have responded to a scene and saw a firefighter look at the mangled or dead body of a civilian and than leave the scene. I have heard firefighters say they want to watch someone die. This is not the attitude we as firefighters need to showcase. We are the help, not the hindrance to an emergency situation. Treating people like meat or sideshow displays is unacceptable.
I won't go on to long about this one but I will say we need to treat every person we encounter the way we want to be treated. We may be the last face these people see before they depart this world. We may be the only people there to comfort a family during their most trying time.