By Tom Carlin, Miami Valley Area Firefighter
In regard to the last article I have wrote, I feel obligated to us all to write a second response to the first. Whilst in the first its easy to pick out problems and to table this and that as a negative cause or impact. I am sure we all can have our own list of points and issues of the negative weather you share some of mine or not. I venture to say at least one or two of my observations is shared among yours, the reader. However on a much more constructive note I wish to provide my listed issues in the previous article with solutions, remedies, improvements and or suggestions as it may be seen applicable. So lets start then.
The first issue I stated was high turn over rates due to the process, time and expense of training. Often many start the journey to never finish. Lets tackle that. Easier said than done right? Well you be the judge. I suggest that if one truly is serious about entering the fire service with career intentions, the ought to research what it really takes in regard to getting to the finish line. With that thought in mind one might consider working a bit more in their current occupation to have more money to start school. There is no shame in doing what you have to, to get where you need to be. Maybe take that extra year and an extra job or two. Next would be look into financial aid programs that some colleges offer. There are grants and student loans available. The end results are worth the struggle. Some departments will even pay for education if you meet their requirements and agree to stay with them for a time. That’s a great way to get the experience the career departments look for. I recommend doing some ride time before school find out if its really for you. Don’t ride at just one department, sample them, each is its own take on the fire service. TALK to the current firefighters about the job, many times have I seen riders come in just to be wall flowers. As a rider you must seek knowledge. Ask questions, the answers don’t fall out of the fire house ceiling into your brain. As current firefighters we should instill the appetite for the job to all who ride with us. Perhaps we ourselves could do more to give these youngsters a nudge toward making a big decision in their life. Someone or something pushed us toward this. They need help and support like we do, and perhaps even a bit more so considering they are in the process of making a big life choice. Its not just a job, its a culture, a family and a way of life. On the subject of injuries ending and deterring many from staying we ought to encourage those entering and new to maintain physical fitness and do it ourselves. We lead by example. We also need to teach the youngsters ways to cope with the reality of it. We need to provide a good support network for those who get hurt or are having trouble coping. Most youngsters do not seem to realize their own mortality. We need to help them realize that they and we are far from bullet proof. When the newbies truly listen, and you as and experienced firefighter tell them of some of your close calls, the should realized that if you came that close to being no more that they would fair no better if not worse thus realizing mortality. As for the issue of time involved they should realized by a certain point in research and ride alongs what they are in for. There is no way around the time involved, its a great sacrifice for some. However with the use of financial alleviation that I outlined prior, the time sacrifice may be much more bearable to potential candidates and young firefighters.
As for the issue of pay there is very little we can do to immediately. However there are things we can do that will impact how we are received and valued by those we serve. With positive impact the next time we ask for a raise in a levy we may get it from grateful citizens who value us highly. We can achieve this by giving top notch service, not just in skill but in interpersonal interaction. Skill is not enough alone. How we treat people we interact with on job impacts our relations with community. One person with a poor interaction tells their families, friends and many others they know. They may even file a compliant against the department itself. Leave the unnecessary tenseness until it is needed. Don’t go out to be a jerk. Treat people as people not just as a run number. Build relationships with those you interact. They will remember it and see that they have an ally there with them and watching over them, their family, and home. Another outstanding way to build public relations is to be proactive in our communities that we serve. Show that we are with them not just when things go bad but back them and their community. When all comes together our residents will be willing to back us when we ask them for more so we can do what we do.
Now the topic of poor fire service culture. There is no quick about this and we still must be selective of those we add to our fire family but we must do this in a way that grabs the good people and does not drive everyone away. One big lesson I noticed, in poor culture, that was often forgotten was never forget where we came from. We all at one point were the new guy or young buck making a big life choice diving head first into something school can never prepare you for. We all started with the basic cert.s at one point before we got what we have. Encourage the new guys to drive for more knowledge, more experience and instill a passion for the job. Reward their success do not ignore it. If our culture only focus on their screw ups and being the first to rip their head off we will eventually drive all away. Of course we need thick skin and to own our screw ups, but constant barrages of negativity will eventually chase of those folks too. They get tired of always being jumped and treated like crap. Same applies to the poor treatment of part timers and volunteers. They eventually get sick of the overly macho crap, constant ridicule, ass chewings etc. and will glad to leave it all up to you regardless of when or where. Leave the BS up to the soap operas on the tele. Get yourself straight if you need to. Be inclusive and encouraging to the newbies when they do right and even when they do wrong. Take time to explain to them the whys and hows. Relate to them, sharing your screw ups, as a new guy or as an experienced guy, shows them you too are human and made the same mistakes once. It builds trust in you and they will see you as a go to person, and a mentor and eventually a friend and brother/sister. Remember we want to bring people in and keep them for a long time. Be inclusive share in the grunt work, don’t dump it all on them and crap all over them when its not done in 5 minutes. We must rely on our selves and lead by example. Our officers should strive in providing a positive environment for success and employee retention. Officers don’t be afraid to thump your regular guys when they get too hard on our newbies. Remember they will be the future of the fire service and learn how to act from senior guys and officers. And to the new guys its not always a warm and fuzzy deal. You have to truly earn your place. There will be an amount of crap you must take. Just be able to differentiate between crap and toxic culture. You will not fit into every fire department either. There’s a time to just suck it up buttercup.
By Tom Carlin, Miami Valley Area Firefighter
Why are the numbers in our (Dayton, Ohio) regions fire service dwindling? Well to answer that big question I’ll list my my reasons and expand on them.
1. High turn over rates: Why do we have such high turn over rates in our area? Several reasons, the education and certification requirements are long and heavily involved with little reward and immediate payoff. Coupled with trying experiences along the way, poor fire service culture. Possible severe debilitating injury with no paid leave or illness time can ruin or wear one out along the way or completely end it for them. Multiple jobs and schooling are hard to manage as well. One used to be able to keep financially able with 2 or three part time fire service jobs. Now with the hours regulations that is no longer possible requiring other jobs and precious time that could be devoted to furthering someones career.
2. Pay is not the greatest even for full timers: we all know one does not do this job for the money nor should we expect it to be a high paying job. However the public wishes to pay less and less for our services and have the same results. Not just in our line of work are our wages and budgets being scalped, but in all forms of public service and government employment. The public culture movement of increased appreciation for the partying culture and glorification of criminals and thug life has made our public services an enemy of the American people. I in no way am stating we ought to be making football player like salaries but that we must be compensated for what we do in a manner that makes it viable for us to continue to do it. Love for our job and community is not enough alone, we must also have a means of living. Even if the fire service is to move toward a volunteer function again, those of us that depend on our wages will have to find work else where.
3. Poor fire service culture: The culture of the fire service has been changing for a family atmosphere to one of a cut throat back stabbing, gossip factory of overly inflated steroid induced sorority of failed 80s jocks who couldn’t make it past high school sports. There is a level of humility required in this job that the old timers maintained that the newer generation of full timers do not have. Part timers in career departments are looked down upon as moronic burdens, just because of employment status or the fact they don’t have x certification or y certification. I thought ,in an unnamed department where I encountered this culture, I would be working with adults. It was not the case. We should all have pride and confidence in ourselves but to the point where it has a positive impact on the whole organization and the fire service. Mostly its way over done running people out of the department and fire service as a whole. The family aspect of it is a rapidly dwindling culture leaving a cancerous culture of miserable cretins behind poisoning the fire service altogether.
4. Surplus of certified personnel: In our region we have many educational institutions cranking out several certified people in many ranges leaving little jobs and higher requirements for petty part time positions that offer little incentive other than a pay check incapable ,by itself, of much means of support for one let a lone one with a spouse or family. Thus just to enter one may need all the same requirements of a full timer and experience just for the part time job. And most places prefer to hire one with experience. But how can a new person who may be looking at thousands of dollars and hours in training and education justify that when the can not be hired without experience? Its a cycle of doom that can be hard to escape. Not impossible though. There are positions that will hire different cert. ranges without experiences, but those jobs tend to be bottom of the barrel offering poor structure, on job training and equipment and facilities. Its hard to justify that whole process when one can make $15 an hour flipping burgers in some places or doing other jobs that take less skill, education, training, and do present the hazards that our job does.
Here we go. My thoughts on Baby Boomers vs generation X vs millennials and, why I believe we in the fire service are making a issue that shouldn’t be a issue.
Baby Boomers. The people that were raised knowing if you wanted something you’d have to work for it. Stuff wasn’t just handed to you. Stuff wasn’t available. You had to learn how to fix things that were broken. Make due with what was available and survive the best you could.
Generation X The group that learned that hard work made the difference. That helping others was worth the effort. Volunteering was a honorable thing to do. Yet this time period the government started there push on. You has a young person having rights. You can be whatever you want to be when you grow up. Your parents don’t have a right to spank you.
So generation X started becoming a tad bit more out spoken. I tad bit selfish. A bit rebellious. Vowing not to be like our parents and being so hard on our children.
Millennials a group that has bought into just about every lie and bullshit line the government has told them. They believe that the world owes them something. Nobody is suppose to tell them how to do things. They should be able to take a class pass it and go straight to the top.
Know we are starting to deal with the post-millennials. These are the people that think because they showed up they need a trophy. Little disrespectful, lazy no get up and go and think everything is about them and only them.
So that is the short version of each group. Without getting into a long history lesson.
I myself am a generation Xer. Born in the city of Syracuse NY in 1970. Was taught to respect my elders, my country and that hard work never killed anyone. To help people when ever I could even though we didn’t have much ourselves. My father was a Navy veteran. He also rode with the motorcycle group the Outlaw’s in Florida. My father also was Italian. And grow up going to Catholic Schools. So you probably can figure out he was hard on us. My mother was Native American and Irish. So she may have had a little temper.
So here’s the reality of all this. We have nobody to blame for the younger generation being lazy, disrespectful and selfish then us. We allowed it. We sat back bitching about how the schools and government were ruining our children and did nothing about it. We excepted it by not voicing our opinions. We didn’t call our elected officials. We didn’t take a stand for what we believed in. So let’s stop sitting around bitching and complaining about it and except the fact that ultimately we are to blame. Us meaning the baby boomers and generation Xers.
Do we have a hard time recruiting the millennials and post millennials? Yes! Do they come in with a different expectation then Xers? Yes they do! Does this mean we just throw up our hands and say the hell with it? You better not! Do these two last group’s really give us that much of a challenge in the fire service; That we write 1000s of articles about them?
I think not. I think we are playing into political correctness and we need to stop. We need to stop putting everyone’s feelings in front of what is right and values and traditions of the fire service.
Here’s were it gets ugly.
How dare we sit and pass judgement on each other. How dare we disrespect each other. How dare we talk shit about each other. How dare we judge our own by weither they are old or balding or look like a smurf pissed in their hair. Or by there skin color or by their gender. Or there sexual preference. Whether they proclaim to be a christian or not.
We has Firemen and Women should not be passing judgement on any person. Weither they belong to the fire service or not. We should hold ourselves to a much higher standard then the rest of the world. We should respect everyone as a human being that may have something to offer us. If we would just start by respecting one another we would end most of the plan stupid ass bullshit that we face in the fire service.
Just because we respect one another doesn’t mean we have to agree with what one does. But what others do in their own homes is none of our business. As long as it isn’t illegal or hurting our departments reputation. The sooner we in the fire service start respecting one another the better. The sooner or commissioners or city officials start respecting the members of the fire department the better off we will be. The sooner we realize political correctness has no place in the fire service the better off we will be.
Now to sum this all up. You Chief officers and line officers. If we are to quit pussy footing around and tell everyone up front what is expected of them and then follow through, and hold people accountable. We wouldn’t be having these write ups about all the different generations. Quit making excuses and step up and lead!
You senior guy’s. Stop the bullshit of thinking your the best and you don’t owe anyone anything. I have 18 years in the fire service. Im a pretty good firefighter. But I’m not a great firefighter. We don’t see enough fires to be great. We owe the younger generation our knowledge. We owe the younger generation respect for being willing to join our ranks.
You younger generation of folks. Remember this if you don’t remember anything thing else. Nobody owes you anything. Show the senior guy’s the respect that they deserve. Shut up listen and learn. Don’t be in a big hurry to jump into a line officer position. Do your time. Learn the functions of the department, all the different roles and operations.
When we get younger people to join let them know right up front what is expected of them. We are not here to babysit them. We don’t have time or resources to deal with petty bullshit. We have standards that we expect to be followed and if they can’t handle them not to bother joining.
Even though we are in a time of the fire service changing this is the reason I believe we have no reason to be making a huge deal out of the different generations. The fires we fight our more dangerous then ever. They burn hotter and faster than ever. The chemicals and gases that come off from these fires are deadlier than ever. Therefore we shouldn’t be worrying about and trying to accommodate to everyone’s whim. We are here to protect life’s and property. It is our responsibility to make sure every one of our people are trained to be the best and to be able to do this job safely. It’s our responsibility to make sure when we all respond to a emergency that we all come home.
So why are we worried about the different generations? The fire doesn’t care about our age, gender, race. So why do we?
So let’s start off with respecting each other. Quit the bullshit that one generation is better than the other. Then let’s work on letting everyone on our departments know what’s expected of them and start holding them accountable. I believe that these two things alone should be enough to get rid of this different generation problem that we think we have.
So now the question is how far off base am I with all this?