It’s 0905hrs on a Sunday morning.
The career firefighter is sleeping soundly in his favorite recliner, enjoying the freedom to nap indiscriminately on a weekend, but also ready to get to work when the tones drop. He is “living the dream.” You know, that dream, the one you always hear about: Insurance, benefits and steady pay to do something you would probably do for free.
The volunteer firefighter is sleeping equally soundly, enjoying the freedom to stay in bed on a weekend, children permitting. Just like our career firefighter, he is ready to go to work when the tones drop. He is exhausted after working overtime Monday through Friday, but he knows when he wakes up he will get to spend irreplaceable time with his family in the comfort of his own home.
What’s the difference?
There are differences, I can assure you of that. These differences, however, are not as glaring as the Facebook Fire Department would have you believe, and the positives and negatives on both sides mostly cancel each other out. In all of the infighting, backbiting and criticisms that often arise between career personnel and volunteers, we constantly forget about another class of firefighter. These men and women make up the oft-ignored third party of the fire service.
Our red-headed stepchildren; The part-time firefighter.
I have been a volunteer, a part-timer and a career firefighter, I am familiar with the struggles of all sides. I can tell you, without hesitation, that the hardest role to fill is that of the part-time firefighter. You can mistakenly be viewed as not as invested as the career guys, not as dedicated as the volunteers. Scab or hired gun are equally unsavory perceptions of your role.
Would you like to know what the part-time firefighter is doing while both the career and volunteer firefighters sleep? Probably commuting to any one of his or her three-plus jobs. Most of them work varying combinations of full-time and part-time positions, both Fire/EMS and otherwise, to make ends meet. How long has it been since their last day off? Who knows. Somewhere between a dog’s age and a really-freaking-long-time. Home? Nah. The part-time firefighter might as well just live in his car, for all the time he gets to spend at his mailing address.
But why be a part-time firefighter at all if it sucks so bad?
- Some don’t have a choice. Maybe they don’t have any seriously marketable skills outside of public service. I certainly fit that bill, myself.
- It can be hard getting a career position on a fire department, any number of life choices or events can extinguish your dream.
- Maybe life just got in the way. Sometimes the reality of your situation doesn’t necessarily mesh with your career aspirations. Timing is everything.
- Many are younger individuals, just getting their start. Not everybody walks onto a full-time job after class ends. The experience they are gaining makes them much more desirable volunteer and career employees.
- Lastly, some simply have no interest in pursuing a Fire/EMS career. They probably already have gainful employment in another field and just want to enjoy a living out a childhood dream (while being paid for their time, of course).
Arguments are frequently made that nobody forced them to be part-time firefighters, and that they can give up whenever they want and get a better job. Whatever their reasons, the public service community as a whole needs them more than they need us. Most of these guys and gals can certainly make more money elsewhere, but they chose a life of service instead. For now, at least.
Dragging themselves from department to department, sleep deprived and half-dead, but still ready to go; where I’m from, these are the people that keep both career and volunteer departments afloat.
Volunteer engine response constantly coming up light? It’s understandable. With increasingly demanding schedules, not many people have time to volunteer. Part-timers are here to save the day.
Department making the transition from all-volunteer to combination? Those part-timers are super handy when you need to fill out a schedule.
Need shift coverage for that big fishing trip? PT’s got your back.
If they seem grouchy, it’s probably because they haven’t seen their families for days on end. If they seem unhealthy, it’s likely because they don’t have the luxury of good insurance, or can’t afford to take sick days. Their schedules lead many of them to down energy drinks by the case. If they seem disinterested, I would venture to say that it’s because they work at three or four departments, each with their own sets of training, rules, tempo and drama. Burnout is real.
And finally, if they seem tired, it’s because THEY ARE.
Be thankful that they are here, and be nice to your part-timers.
As firefighters, we are asked to provide many types of services. Firefighting, EMS, hazardous materials, rescue, and other tasks that are usually menial. We respond when someone needs help standing after a fall, getting cats out of trees, and removing storm debris for hours on end. We teach CPR to local organizations, fire safety to children, and assist elderly residents with installing smoke detectors and vitals checks. We commonly refer to this as “service” when in reality these are “services.”
Service is not the duties we perform on a daily basis. Service is the art of putting others before yourself. Service is not a cheap buzzword to be used in mission statements or administrative meetings. Service is at the heart of our obligations. It refers to our heritage and tradition. It encompasses the meaning behind our craft as a whole. We are the “fire service.” Service is defined as, “an act of help or assistance.” This is what we do. This is how we make our mark in the future.
We serve three distinct groups of people. First, the obvious, our community. To serve the community we protect, we must continually strive to improve. If we fail here, we provide a disservice to our department and the name of all those who gave their lives in service. If we take our position for granted, we fail to help those in need. Our lack of preparation leads to a failure to provide assistance to those in distress.
The second group of people we serve are our fellow firefighters. My biggest fear is allowing one of my men/women to perish, knowing I could have done more to prepare them. When we fail to ensure the safety of our crews, our citizens, and ourselves, we perform a disservice. This disservice has a butterfly effect on the daily life of everyone we come in contact with.
The next group we serve are our families. We serve our families by making sure we are using effective, functional knowledge to ensure our safety. When a firefighter dies in the line of duty, they feel no more pain. They are burdened no more. But the lives and actions of their family, friends, department, and community are changed forever. They bear the burden of the loss, they feel the hurt, and they reap what you have sown. All too often we act as if everyone owes us something. Before you react, remember that you signed the dotted line. We asked for this job. No judge sentenced us to time in the fire service. We chose this line of work for a reason, and if you have any sense at all, it’s not the benefits. We are the ones who owe something. We owe our families more than just making another 24. We owe our brothers more than watching how to save his life on YouTube. We owe our community more than learning search procedures from an IFSTA manual. We owe these people. We owe our children the right to have a father growing up, by embracing the facts……We can be called to meet our maker at any time. We must exceed the status quo. There are too many amongst us that are not prepared to face adversity. I cannot and will not allow myself to become complacent in my “service.” I will serve others with a tenacity that scares the mediocre. I will not allow the opinions of others to affect my service to my brethren, community, and most of all, family.
It’s an honor to serve. It’s an honor to respond in a time of need. Don’t let disservice be how you are remembered for your service.
Bremen Fire Rescue
Building the future fire officer and re-enforcing the capabilities of current ones.
Professional development in any career field is an important process for the stability and growth of the organization. The fire service tends to lean internally when it comes to promoting officers; this makes the practice of professional development a critical one. Our firefighters absorb specific operational knowledge about their response area over time, that knowledge becomes a brain trust which is invaluable to a department. The local operational knowledge required to be a fire officer in any given jurisdiction
is nearly a necessity. For that reason, it’s important for a fire department to develop the people they have as opposed to bringing in new officers from the outside. With clear expectations of your officers and a comprehensive development program, fire departments set the stage for their members to be successful while creating the foundation for a well-tuned and morale-rich fire department.
Professional development in the fire service can encompass many facets of leadership and management. As with everything, the scope of a professional development training program should be defined in writing. This definition could include educational requirements and address or defined a wide range of topics and resources for study such as:
- customer service
- conflict resolution
- communication (radio & routine)
- disciplinary action
- role playing sessions
- public relations
- ethics and holding a position of public trust
- personal life conduct
- social media conduct
- local incident command
- health & wellness
- applicable state and federal laws
- recognizing the signs of suicide and when to reach out
- creative problem solving
- diversity and cultural sensitivity
- handling customer complaints and much much more.
The list could be nearly endless. The core idea behind professional development is to identify the knowledge and skills your department finds desirable in an officer and create functional training around those topics. Training on each topic could be in the form of custom online multi media courses using a Learning Management System (LMS) (see Revolutionize Your Volunteer Training) combined with in-person training sessions. Building multi media classes around each topic allow the members to complete the assigned training on their own time, in their homes, at the ball game or in the air. No LMS? Classroom works just as well. Knowledge gained through LMS multi media courses should always be re-enforced with practical or even a role-playing session in the classroom. Some fire officers are unsure how they will react given a specific situation. Role playing puts the officer in that uncomfortable position allowing him to use his communication skills to resolve the problem. Coaching and mentoring during the role playing session helps to develop the officer’s skills in managing personnel.
Professional development training resources should be readily available to everyone within the department. The program you develop should be assigned to officers and used to refresh current skills as well as providing firefighters with the opportunity to learn and later promote. If utilizing a multi media LMS platform, a department could theoretically link course completion with potential for promotion when positions become available.
I’ve always held the belief that achieving certifications and/or education is just the beginning. It’s what you do with that education once you’ve completed it that makes all the difference. You can complete a driver operator course certifying that you understand the basics of driving and pumping a fire apparatus but does that necessarily make you qualified? Practicing the craft of being a good driver operator is essential to successful fire ground operation as the incident typically pivots on the pump operator. (See here) Similar to the driver operator analogy, simply learning about the aspects, principles, and processes of leadership and personnel management isn’t enough. The information and the knowledge you learn in classes require development and practice because that is the essence of being a professional.
It’s important to recognize that professional development is a process and it’s ongoing. There is mentoring and coaching that takes place throughout the officer’s tenure. As officers and future officers encounter situations and scenarios they aren’t quite equipped to handle, the act of walking someone through the steps to achieve the desired result will often help to form and develop a functionally more intelligent officer.
Every step of the way officers should be encouraged to own their role and not be afraid of making mistakes. There should be a mild expectation that we’ll all make mistakes at some point. We’re all human. Mistakes and missteps should be viewed as learning moments and an opportunity to develop skills and proper behaviors. As leaders, we should look at ourselves objectively and recognize that we’re all just practicing. Similar to how physicians practice medicine, we, as fire officer’s practice the art of leadership and our craft.
Without question, building a professional development program for your fire department will have a long lasting effect on the health and morale of the organization. If you or the members of your department do not possess the skills to create a professional development program or are not well versed in the topics requiring development, reach out to members or leaders within the community. It’s likely someone in your response area has the ability to help re-enforce customer service skills, conflict resolution skills and the like.
If you have any specific questions regarding anything in this article, please feel free to comment, and I’ll do everything I can to point you to some helpful topic resources.
Good Luck and Be Kind.
Other articles in the Thoughtful Leadership series include:
This year marks the 100th Anniversary of the United States entry into World War I. In the history of the world the war to end all wars is considered a significant turning point in history. There were lessons that were learned and mistakes that were made that paved the road to a future global war. Scholars look back at World War I and discuss the failure of the Treaty of Versailles or the use of chemical weapons changing how future wars would be fought. One of the most overlooked topics (until recently) that has not received extensive research and discussion was the role that medicine played in the war and the impact that it had on combat medicine and civilian medicine.
During this war we see the foundation set for military medicine and we see the impact that Stretcher Bearers and Ambulance Drivers had on patient care. It was during this war that people realised that you needed first responders out on the battlefield to begin treatment immediately to keep them alive so that the patient could get to the next level of care. Unfortunately, that lesson was learned in the combat theater and was not given serious thought prior to going to the battlefield.
Today, military medicine is very progressive and the lessons learned in a combat theater are shared with other practitioners and in the last 50 years EMS has benefited from it. When WWI began, military medicine had not seen any changes since the Civil War. When the United States entered in 1917, the Army did not have an established Medical Corps. The Army was left to learn from what the British and French had learned 3 years prior to U.S. entry into the war. The system that the Americans would copy is by having care being given to casualties on the battlefield. Care would begin with the wounded receiving care from a Stretcher Bearer and then moving the wounded to an Ambulance. This concept of providing early care to the wounded gets its first test during World War I.
The Stretcher Bearer has much in common with today’s Emergency Medical Technicians and Paramedics. A Bearer would go over the top of the trenches into a dangerous environment unarmed with a medical bag in hope of sustaining the casualty until they could get them to the next level of care. Bearers would work in teams of 4-6 and would often have to carry a casualty miles through thick mud. These long carries were so long and both carriers and the casualty had experience so much that many bearers felt that they had been
passing over a life long friend to the ambulance rather than a patient. Some Stretcher Bearers faced sniper fire and would stay by their casualty protecting waiting long periods of time before they could move their patient on to the next level of care.
A Bearer could always be recognized from his hands. The wooden stretcher handles did not always do well in the harsh elements in Europe. The wood would splinter and was rough causing handlers to have hands that were calloused and splintered. Bearers were seen by Medical Officers as men that could make a difference in patient care on the battlefield. Many doctors saw to it that Stretcher Bearers and Ambulance drivers received ongoing first aid training. Other officers such as Chaplains kept a close eye on Stretcher Bearers and made sure that the overworked responders get sleep when exhausted.
Stretcher Bearers were not the only medical personnel exhausted on the front line. Once a Bearer removed a casualty from no-man’s land a patient would then continue their journey to a Casualty Clearing Station via Ambulance. Ambulance drivers would often have to navigate their way to makeshift field hospitals while encountering rough terrain, enemy fire, and patients screaming in agony.
When a patient made it to a Casualty Clearing Station they would be reassessed and decisions were made if the patient needed to be brought to another level of care or treated at the Casualty Clearing Station. In the first industrialized war of the 1900s nations did not place enough emphasis on patient care.
Many of the ideas born on the battlefield during WWI are still being used today on the modern battlefield and in EMS. The Thomas Splint was used to stabilize femur fractures and is still being used today. When used it dramatically reduced the mortality rate. At clearing stations doctors began to use X-Ray machines to locate bullet wounds and shrapnel in patients. Doctors were also learning new ways of treating contagious diseases, burns, and tissue damage. The lessons learned in Clearing Stations were used to train first responders on the battlefield.
Military Medicine to Civilian EMS
Many of the common procedures used in EMS can be traced back to World War I. However; it was not until the mid-1950s when physicians began to ask why lessons learned for emergency medical treatment and transportation during war could not be applied to civilian use. Drs. J.D. “Deke” Farrington and Sam Banks used these combat lessons to develop a trauma training program for the Chicago Fire Department. This program later developed into an EMT course.
Recently some of the combat medical treatments that are applicable to civilian EMS are the use of tourniquets, hemostatic agents such as Quick Clot, and Chest Decompression. The concept of
making sure people on the frontline have the necessary equipment to treat injuries has emerged in Law Enforcement. Soldiers, Marines, Airmen, and Sailors that operate in a combat theater carry an (IFAK) Independent First Aid Kit on their Flak Jackets including tourniquets, Israeli bandages, and other trauma dressings. Many law enforcement officers nationwide carry tourniquets or a modified version of the IFAK.
The U.S. military continues to identify better means of providing care to combat casualties. EMS can now learn from these experiences to improve the capability of the EMT and paramedic so they can provide better EMS care to our citizens. When we look at the initial care provided to patients in combat or in the civilian world when help is called for the initial treatment begins with a courageous responder showing up with a medical and using their training and experience to get the patient to the next level of care. That concept of giving an individual some medical training and then sending them out into combat over one hundred years ago to save lives has not changed. In the future, EMS will continue to benefit from what is learned in combat because unfortunately, war is good for medicine.
Super Secret Squirrel BBQ rub? Check.
Pager and/or radio? That’s a negative, Ghostrider.
I am about to hit the road for two days of meat-smoking bliss, free of any thoughts or concerns about the anything and everything spinning around in the universe of fire/EMS. Structure fire on Main Street? Totally sucks, bro. Overdoses? Probably happening right now. Meh. No, sirs (and assorted Ma’ams), it is my fullest intention to have my ass planted firmly in a well-worn lawn chair, Miller Lite in hand, without a care in the world aside from keeping my cook temp around 225F.
This is what we all need, in my humble opinion. Something, anything, to escape the surprisingly intrusive lifestyle that is emergency public service.
Finding a good hobby can go a long way in the efforts of mental stability because whether you ride the busiest ladder in your state or run on the smallest of volunteer departments, we all share a common enemy; Stress. I’m not strictly talking about the ugly calls or high-intensity situations. Which is more agitating; a tricky, albeit successful, fire response that doesn’t go your way, or receiving multiple phone calls on your night off about trivial (and, odds are, self-correcting) issues? Running eighteen medic calls in twenty-four hours, or having to find a creative way to keep volunteer, part-time and full-time staff content while ordering new equipment?
Stress and anxiety do not discriminate by call volume, and every region is both unique similar in their stressors. “If my mind could forget what my eyes have seen” is a powerful statement, undoubtedly, but it can also apply to the state the toilets were left in last day. For me, personally, the social aspect of the fire service has always been more stressful than the actual nature of the job. Firehouses are more like beauty salons and barber shops than the public cares to know about.
This is a particularly inescapable reality for those in officer or leadership positions. Just because you aren’t physically present in the dayroom doesn’t mean you aren’t stuck at the station on some level. You may be at home, comfortably curled up on the couch with your family, but your mind is still at the office because it’s always at the office. Your brain is, in fact, directing your eyes to orient themselves in the general direction of the tv. Your consciousness, on the other hand, is going haywire with a flight of scenarios- How are we going to afford new gear? I could totally see that guy’s brain… The engine is OOS again, and our budget is already running thin… We are so unprepared for a fire at that one place…
Much to the swelling agitation of your spouse or significant other, the only thing you ever have to talk about is work stuff. Thought-provoking conversations over a long-overdue family supper? Let’s talk about the kids or the house, maybe our savings plan? Nope. “You’ll never guess what happened on A-Shift, honey” is where things will start off, in all likelihood. Per industry standards, this is also the topic that will cap the meal after dessert. I need to point out that it’s not all your fault; All of your friends are work friends, and all of their friends are work friends. When the department furnishes your financial livelihood and social circle, what else do you actually have to talk about?
“Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.” There is no escape.
Unless you create one.
Sharing time! I am a world-class worrier. It may not be obvious on the outside, but those closest to me know that I can fret with the best of them, blessed with the ability to obsess over any minuscule concern like a true champion. The best I can do is to try and remind myself to be like the duck (calm on the surface, paddle like hell underneath), and it works for me. My therapy? I deal with my stress through exercise and cooking, though one would think them to be natural enemies.
Find what works for you; maybe you hate jogging, and culinary puzzles just piss you off, but you’ve secretly
always had a thing for model trains. Want to play guitar? eBay is chock full of pretty decent orphaned acoustics that college kids got bored with. Want to tinker with an old car? Ok, this one can get kinda expensive. The best way to approach this diversion is to remember that it’s not about reaching the finish line, it’s about zoning out to the sounds of your cheap garage radio on a classic rock station and the click-click-click of a well-worn 3/8 drive ratchet. Trust me, when replacing 50-year-old drum brakes, there is no room for outside distractions. Only swear words of escalating creativity and pure, unbridled rage are permitted to exist within the moment.
If the time lost to a hobby is unrealistic with your work schedule, you’re probably working too much. We can all relate. It’s just not a viable option to allow your children to endure unnecessary financial hardship so you can go play. Let’s look at it from another angle, get creative if you will; it could be beneficial to replace one of your (likely) multiple part-time department jobs with one that is completely unrelated to public service. It may not be a hobby, per se, but one less day a week in a blue uniform could do wonders for your lifespan. Like most of us, I don’t really have many other marketable skills, but I’m pretty good at sitting on a zero-turn lawnmower with my earbuds in. They hire people to do that, I’ve seen em’.
Bringing it home
I’ve heard it said that once you are a parent, your sole purpose is now to be a good memory for your children. To be a good memory, you have to first be present. By present, I mean at home, at the table, helping with homework, “having a catch.” The little things. Second, you have to be good. In short, be good roughly translates to don’t be a dick. Take care of yourselves, and leave work stressors where they belong; at work, away from your family. Whatever pastimes you can acquire to aid in this endeavor will be worth it. I hear golf is pretty nifty.
As some travel company once said, “find your island.” Or hobby. Whatever.
When I was first promoted to the officer ranks, I inherited a much older crew (in both age and tenure). The jubilation of the promotion coupled with the sobering reality that I was now the fall-back guy for anything that went wrong was quite the manic experience. My ego unwittingly got the best of me. I lived for a time under the delusion that as the officer, I needed to have the answers to every problem we would encounter. Trial and error was the order of the day with little progress and low morale. When I lost my driver to a transfer, I was able to convince a friend of mine from a neighboring station to replace him. Following his arrival, we set the standard of expectations of my crew. His frankness, professionalism, and intelligence prompted me to openly ask his opinion in many tough situations. I knew he would shoot me straight and was looking out for the crew and me, rather than having his own motivations. Before long, he spoke freely if he had a concern with any operations, but would always remain respectful that the accountability ultimately laid with me. “Everyone has a say,” was the culture we cultivated within our crew and because of this, we operated with impeccable production. Our relationship enlightened me that the greatest tool at the company officer’s disposal does not reside in a compartment, nor is it strapped onto his back; it rides belted in each occupied seat inside the cab. One of the smartest things an officer of any tenure can do is pose a simple question to his crew: What do you think?
It can be used in any situation where a fork in the road is encountered. Behind these four simple words is a thesis that tells the members that their experience is valued and that they have a stake in the operations at hand. Equally as important, it subtly encourages the crew to speak up without reservation which enhances the officer’s situational awareness.
Something to keep in mind is that there is a time, a place and a frequency to this approach. The officer must not hesitate to make the tough, split-second decisions that many on-scene situations call for and must understand that this question is not a way to dodge their basic responsibilities and duties. Accountability for the crew and their actions always lies with the officer, but when the situation allows for a second opinion, ask them what they think. The guys on the rig with you are motivated and driven human beings. In fact, they are some of the best and most caring individuals I have ever met. They want to be treated as such and significant ground could be gained by simply asking their opinion and letting their voices be heard. Their collective experience is the officer’s greatest tool, but like any other tool in the toolbox, you need to know how to use it most effectively, or you’ll be trying to vent a roof with a hacksaw. So I ask you: What do you think?
– Jake Henderson is a 30-year-old Captain with the Fort Worth, Texas Fire Department. He is assigned to Station 24 on the city’s east side which houses an Engine, Quint, and Battalion 4 as well as being a satellite HazMat station. Jake holds an Associate’s Degree in Fire Protection Technology and is HazMat Tech and Fire Inspector certified.
Building a community network to support your volunteer fire department.
For the career fire employees out there, it’s likely your fire department provides some level of personnel support with regard to smoking cessation, physical fitness, dietary, psychological support, marriage counseling, stress management, financial planning etc. from an employee assistance program(EAP).
For the volunteer departments reading this, it’s likely you have little or no support at all in the areas serviced by a professional EAP program, nor can you likely afford to pay for the services for one like it. Alas, there is always a solution to the most complex problems but it might take a little idea tweaking, politicking, handshaking, and community organizing to pull it off.
Every community has services that can be drafted or harnessed to provide support for your fire departments’ volunteers. For the 501(c) fire departments, your job may be a little bit easier, as donations to your organization are likely tax-deductible.
When broken down in numbers, volunteer fire departments save their communities millions in labor costs. In fact, a recent study by the Firemen’s Association of the State of New York determined that volunteer firefighter’s save the citizens of New York State $3.1 billion in taxes to support wages and associated employment benefits of a statewide career department. Equating the dollar equivalent of a volunteer firefighter doesn’t exactly fill one with pride, but it’s a valuable number to calculate for your area because it can be used as a selling point to garner support from the community and it’s business power.
Volunteerism is down all over the country, it’s a common headline these days. Every volunteer fire chief struggles to keep active volunteers on their roster, and there is a slew of reasons why. (See The Volunteer Solution) It’s imperative to find creative ways to sweeten the pot for your volunteers. Wouldn’t it be great if you were able to offer a welcome package to a new full member of your department? A welcome package that comes from the community as a ‘thank you’ for serving them? Hint: the answer is yes! If you’re a fire chief reading this, you already know you have more tasks than not, but two very important primary tasks are to find the balances between serving the needs of your membership as well as the needs of your community, each serving each other.
What I’m describing looks a little like the businesses of your community offering small discounts to the volunteers of your organization. For example, volunteer firefighters receive 5% off a particular gas station, 10% off at a local chain restaurant, a rebate at the car dealership, one free oil change per year at the quick lube, a free consultation with a nutritionist, chiropractic services, discounts on gym memberships and so on. The list is endless and it’s all unique to what your community has to offer. Where possible, always make attempts to include services found in a typical EAP. The idea here is to engage the services of your community to support the selfless services provided by your volunteers. Small discounts may not seem like a big deal, but when added up over the course of a year it could mean hundreds or even thousands of dollars saved by the members of your organization and as we learned in the Volunteer Solution, every little bit counts.
Where do we start?
As with any large task, you break the situation down into logical, manageable chunks of work.
The central idea here is that the volunteer problem is not a fire department problem, it’s a community problem. We’re all in this together. The solution is a community one.
Develop your pitch. In the Volunteer Solution Part 3, we discussed communicating your needs as an o
rganization to your community. If you fail to communicate the type of support you need, you will certainly NOT receive it. You’ll want to write all of these things down and package this as a fire department program. Give it a name, for example, “Community volunteer firefighter assistance.” Start with drafting a statement of your intentions, highlight your volunteer numbers, national trends, the number of hours these individuals provide the community and the disruption it causes to their lives. Express your needs openly and honestly. It may even be useful to communicate how volunteer firefighters save their businesses thousands of tax dollars but at a cost to very few among us. Create an understanding with business owners by describing your plan to harness the collective power of the community to support volunteerism and ask them if they’d be willing to help. No threats need to be made, but the bottom line reality for every volunteer department is if people stop showing up, the cost of replacing a volunteer can be astronomical.
Identify the services, businesses, and organizations in your community you’d be interested in forming partnerships with. These services could include, nutritionists, physical fitness (local gym), gas stations, restaurants, box stores, car dealerships, barbershops, chiropractic services, massage therapy, car maintenance businesses, grocery stores, hotels, and any type of entity within your reach. There is literally no limit to the participants of your developing program. It could take a year to build fully, however, meeting with each business owner or proprietor to communicate your needs takes time, thoughtful effort, and a little bit of politicking. Arrange a one-on-one meeting, or host a group meeting with local business leaders, each choice will help to get your message across.
Marketing, marketing, marketing. The services your fire station provides IS your product and
products need to be sold. As a fire department, we don’t produce anything. In fact, our very nature is to consume more than we produce. We’re more of a last resort insurance policy for when people need help, with anything. Market all the good thinks your volunteers are doing, market EVERYTHING, create edited videos with your logo, post images to your website and social media frequently.
During the workshops I provide, I hear department leaders complain about not receiving enough facebook followers or website traffic. Their message is going unheard and nobody seem
s to be paying attention. Here’s a simple trick, provide information people in your community NEED and they will continue to check back. They don’t need to know about your fire prevention program, but they might need to know what traffic conditions are, the weather, tides, storm information, community hazards, road closures, construction and so forth. People will follow you for necessary information and while they’re there, market the things you want them to know and see. My hard point here is that if nobody sees it happen, it didn’t happen. It’s human nature to be absorbed in our own lives, most people do not give much attention to the fire department because it is not relevant to their daily lives. Make yourselves relevant. It takes some thoughtful planning and process building, but once that’s nailed down, it’s a field of dreams.
Volunteer fire departments really need to get back into the business of community organizing. Find ways to make yourselves a more active presence in your community. Consider offering babysitting certification classes, community CPR classes, and child car seat installation. Join nationally funded initiatives like Safe Place. Instead of passively providing a service when those are in need, find creative ways and attempt to be relevant in the daily lives of your community.
Last but not least, when you’ve garnered the support you need from the community, create a membership card whether magnetic swipe or barcode that businesses can swipe or scan for member discounts. Members can carry the cards in their wallet and scan them when used. There are many websites where you can make custom membership card. Such as this one, click (here). Likewise, when/where possible, set your program participants up with your tax exempt number so their contributions to your program can be written off on their taxes, if possible.
Here are some examples of how you can market and recruit for your department.
What makes us fit for duty? Training.
What training are we referring to? Tasks used to perform our job. Whether it be a technical rescue, hazmat knowledge, ARFF, district familiarization or countless other avenues, as firefighters we are called upon to know an extremely wide range of skills to perform our duties and go home at the end of our shifts.
While this knowledge is part of the necessary tools needed to perform, almost half of our brothers and sisters who pay the ultimate price do so because of overexertion. When called upon to fight fires, it takes an enormous amount of physical exertion to do our job, yet we aren’t physically training for the arduous tasks we will probably encounter.
That’s where Firefit Firefighter Fitness Trainer comes in. This machine mimics the most strenuous of fireground activities in a compact unit that will fit in the corner of most fire station truck rooms. In some cases, departments are replacing the cumbersome entrance exam equipment with Firefit. It’s turn key, requires virtually no set up and is modeled after the CPAT, with a couple of exceptions of course. Just drag the machine from the truck room to the station apron, or use it inside if you have the space for it.
Firefit was created and tested by Randy Johnson, a 14 yr firefighter in the Texas Panhandle, 13 of those as a career firefighter. His personal results while doing a six-week testing program were nothing short of phenomenal. Starting with his heart rate, Day 1 resting heart rate was 66, working HR in the 180’s and recovery time to resting was 14 minutes. His body fat was 22%. Weight was 202. After six weeks using Firefit as his only training, and only on duty for a total usage of 15 times, his HR was in the 150’s during the workout; recovery time dropped to 4.5 minutes! Randy lost 7 lbs, gained back 2 (probably muscle), and lost 4% bodyfat.
While these results are amazing in themselves, the reason for the creation of Firefit, according to Randy, is to reduce the number of names we put on the wall in Colorado Springs and Emmitsburg every September and October, respectively. After all, isn’t that the goal and why we train to be the best at what we do?
I know of a few departments around me who don’t let their juniors do anything, and by anything I mean throwing ladders, stretching lines, hitting a hydrant…You know, the basic things every firefighter should be 100% efficient at.
Up at my company, we look at juniors as the future of our company. They are involved in meetings, drills, hall rentals, cleaning. Everything a senior member can do at the station, a junior member can also.
I’m from a company in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, called Munhall Volunteer Fire Company #5. We run a Tower-Ladder, an Engine, and a Squad. In our borough, we have four different stations, one located at each end, and two in the middle. I can’t say we are a busy company, but every time we go to a call, we do it quick, proficient, and right. I really can’t stress enough about having a junior program in your stations. When I first started out, I was 14. I joined a company in the hometown I lived in, and it was called Whitaker. They ran two Engines, a Squad, and a Foam Unit. I fell in love with it the first day I joined. My dad was and still is the Assistant Chief there, and he helped me get through everything tremendously. If it weren’t for them having that junior program, I would’ve never had as much passion for the fire service as I do now.
After two years, I moved on down the street to the station I’m currently at. I joined when I was 16, and right when I joined they only allowed members 16 and up. But a few months had passed, and we changed our by-laws and are now able to allow members to join at 14. That was by far the best decision our company has ever made. We currently have seven junior members. I was the 8th, but I just recently turned 18 and have become a fully active member. When I was a junior, we had a junior officer line. I was the Junior Chief, my buddy Jake was the Captain, and the Chief’s son was the Lieutenant. Being able to already hold an officer position at that age was like winning an Emmy.
You must be thinking, “Oh, okay, they just had a title…” No, we had duties and responsibilities to handle by ourselves.
Me being the Junior Chief, my duty was to train the juniors up to my level and make sure they know the ins and outs of the fire hall. I was a pretty educated kid at that age, and I had my brother and my two uncles help me out along the way. Several times at drill, they put me as the lead guy, the front man, the role model for the other juniors to look up too. When I first started this, I would always wonder why they put a 16-year-old up on stage to teach the SENIOR guys. It took me two long years to realize why. The only way you are going to better yourself is by trying to better other people. If it weren’t for this junior program, I wouldn’t be as smart or as trained as I am right now.
When I teach at our weekly drill, I look at it from a junior’s perspective. I can see what they do and don’t understand; I was in their shoes for 99% of my time so far. No matter what we do at drill, the juniors do the same. When we cut holes in our simulator, they are right there doing the same thing. They watch us, then they do it. When they do it, we go step-by-step with them, making sure they don’t mess up, but when they do, we reassure them it’s okay. When you’re training, that is the time to make those mistakes. You learn a lot more from the mistakes than doing it right.
Many people criticize and bash juniors for being untrained “whackers.” Well, start training them. Get them involved with EVERYTHING. Every single time you’re at the station with them, go over the trucks, throw ladders, pull some lines, learn what every tool does and their names, learn the role of the officers, learn the different truck and engine duties. Teach every single junior how you would want someone coming to your house at 3 in the morning for a working fire. After all, those juniors will fill your shoes one day.
If you don’t have a junior program or you don’t train your juniors because they aren’t certified, then step up. Make a difference in a young person’s life and be their role model. Be the one that when they say they first started out, you helped them. There is no better feeling in this world than making someone’s life better, if you don’t think that is true, you’re in the wrong line of work. Every time you go to a call and see an elderly woman standing in her doorway telling you guys that the fire alarm was an accident, you check to make sure, and you smile and say have a good night to her. You just made her feel safer and one of the happiest people in this world. She now knows that when trouble occurs, people that have never even met her will drop ANYTHING to save her and that my friends is one of the greatest feelings you can have. Do not take this job lightly. Train, stay fit and treat everyone fairly. Just remember, you were a junior at one point in time also. Make sure all your other juniors act in the same manner of courtesy to that elderly woman, as you did.
– Jonathan Scripp
Munhall VFC #5
Mother’s Day is right around the corner, so it only seems fitting that I should write about women in today’s fire service. I don’t know about you, but I can’t advise messing with someone who can both endure childbirth and swing a halligan. Cheese, light-hearted humor, mild controversy, and hard truths are all present and accounted for in my bag of writing tricks this morning. Let’s begin…
You walk through the front door of your local fire department on your first day on the job. You’ve dreamt of this very moment since your dad took you to see ‘Ladder 49’ as a little girl. The bay smells like diesel exhaust and various cleaning products, and the dining area smells of coffee and fresh kitchen table BS. Yes, this is exactly what you had hoped it would be like. A crisp blue uniform and black boots with nary a scuff or blood borne pathogen to be found on them.
You went to fire school and raised ladders, humped hose, slayed simulated dragons and dragged rescue dummies (some dummies even had pulses). You attended EMT classes and had your Hollywood expectations of life-saving heroics demolished, just like all that came before you. You’ve waded through interviews, physicals, psych evals and polygraphs to earn a chance here.
Your dad gave you parting advice as you left this morning; “You’re the new guy. Be seen and not heard, always be the last to eat and the first to wash dishes. Pay attention to your LT. Love you.” Some of the guys seem distant this morning, others, jovial. The coffee must not have kicked in yet.
Your gear is issued, and you get to work.
Fast forward to one month in; You’re growing as a firefighter. The things you learned in class are finally starting to make more (or less) sense, but you still feel out-of-place. ‘Maybe it’s me,’ you’ve asked yourself once or twice. Most of your new coworkers are genuinely good guys, but a select few either treat you like a fragile porcelain doll or a hindrance that they must bear the weight of for 24 hours.
You’re becoming increasingly agitated by romantic advances from co-workers and have even heard rumors swirling about your involvement with several of the guys from other shifts. True or not, why is this news any of their concern?
There have been grumblings from out of shape firemen about your physical ability to do this job. Despite passing all of the physical requirements and being able to stretch an SCBA cylinder to its very limits, you still catch shit from a guy that perspires at the mere mention of physical exertion.
“I weigh 300lbs; there’s no way she can drag me out of a fire!”
‘So, don’t weigh 300lbs,’ you think to yourself. A lack of dietary self-control on his part has somehow morphed into a negative remark about you. Is this guy for real?
There are plenty of other whispered criticisms; she’s a distraction, some jobs are better left to the men, she only got hired to boost diversity numbers, etc.
This isn’t what it was supposed to be like.
Why do you feel like an outsider, the constant third wheel of the firehouse?
You were told this would be the beginning of the best years of your life, working alongside people who will become like family to you. If any of this was indeed true, you are off to a slow start…
Sparing my dramatic liberties, this is what the fire service might look like to your female coworkers. Hopefully, the overwhelming majority of women reading this are scratching their heads, having never encountered this kind of issue at work. I sincerely wish for that, that all of this was simply make-believe. Unfortunately, we know that more than a few will relate quite well. On a more somber related note, a female firefighter recently committed suicide. Her actions are believed to have been sparked, at least in part, by workplace harassment. She was the topic of crude online comments, rumors, and stories. The information that was uncovered during the investigation will leave an ugly scar on the department forever, regardless of its role in her choice. Suicides rates are statistically higher in public service careers; this is not disputed. Did her “brothers” throw gasoline on a fire that was already burning hot enough on its own? Given this knowledge, any excuse you might have for the kind of treatment faced by our fictional firefighter described at the outset of this discussion is a bad one. Don’t be an ass.
How long has this gone on? I don’t know. Probably since the first woman picked up her first ax on her first horse-drawn, steam-powered fire engine.
The first known female firefighter in the United States was Molly Williams (per i-women.com Terese M. Floren 2007), a New York City slave who became a firefighter with Oceanus Engine Co. #11 in 1815. The first paid urban career female firefighter in the United States? Sarah Forcier in Winston-Salem, North Carolina in 1973. Women have been “Doin’ it” in the US of A for over 200 years, but it is still news when “insert name here,” Texas Fire Department hires their first female employee.
The reason is clear; this has been a boy’s club for generation after generation, and some opponents of change are being dragged into 2017 kicking and screaming. We all have worked with, met or know of one of these guys. Don’t play dumb. Hell, maybe you are that guy.
Ask yourself what your department looks like through the eyes of your female co-workers and their families. Why stop there? These same arguments can be made by anyone that feels disenfranchised by public service. The topic may be Mother’s Day-themed, but the message is about common decency.
So, is your department or shift one that makes them go home and tell their families about the great group of brothers they work with, or one that makes them go home and question their career choices? I have a wife. I claim sisters of the blood, marital and fire service variety. I have a mother, aunts, grandmothers. I have a daughter (love you, kid, if you’re reading this someday). If they were to follow me to work one day, would they approve of the way I treat my sisters in service? I like to think they would. Would yours?
There’s a fine line to be considered here. The line between making someone feel like a welcome member of the department, and treating someone differently in a way that makes them feel like an outsider. The line between innocent fun and downright bullying, between including them in questionable (see; fun) antics and being overprotective. If you must ask yourself if your department falls over the line, it’s probably time to change the culture of your department. The women I have met doing this job have no interest in special treatment or coddling. In fact, nearly all just want to be “one of the crew.” Nothing more, certainly nothing less. Many of them may not even like that I am writing this piece because in perhaps the very truest of firefighter fashions they don’t want to draw attention to themselves.
“I’m not changing the culture of my department, there’s no reason. They joined us, we didn’t join them.”
In the words of Maya Angelou; “if you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.”
Folks, the time has come to change some attitudes. To provide a pleasant nudge in the right direction, here are a few guidelines to aid in your future decision-making processes. These guidelines can apply to almost all of life’s situations, I have found.
-If it wouldn’t be funny to be said about (or to) your little brother or sister, it probably won’t be funny about (or to) most of your co-workers.
-If it would be embarrassing to have your family overhear you speak that way about someone, don’t speak it.
-If it feels wrong, it probably is.
-Always assume your mother is creeping just over your shoulder, ready to pounce and twist your ear while dragging you off-screen (using your FULL NAME, of course).
-It is possible to be both a brother and a gentleman.
-You don’t get to decide what should and should not be hurtful, offensive, or irritating to another. This is a tough concept for many to grasp.
To bring it all home, let’s talk about how this affects me because that’s what’s really important here, right?
It’s a hurdle I’ll never have to worry about jumping, so why even drag it out and open myself to (mostly) good-natured heat? What, if anything, do I stand to profit?
I have skin in the game. I’ll explain;
Someday, my daughter may decide to follow in my footsteps. I genuinely hope that she inherits her mother’s brains and grows up to become a rocket scientist, but I won’t stand in her way. I do worry about what kind of legacy we might be leaving behind for her and others; it doesn’t seem fair that she should have to inherit our messes. “Painful” might not be a strong enough word to describe how it would feel to watch one of my children struggle against antiquated typecasting that I had a hand in cultivating, whether by indifference or otherwise. Lastly, my daughter will inevitably run into coworkers of mine, both past and current, if she decides to enter public service. What might they have to share about me, what kinds of stories do I want to be told about me to my offspring? Will they reinforce her (hopefully) cherished memories of Firefighter Dad, protector, and friend, or will they tarnish them?
Will she be forced to question which man was the real me, “Work Dad” or “Home Dad?”
It’s up to me, I suppose.
Yours is up to you.
Happy Mother’s Day
– Randy Anderson