Firefighter Training, Firefighting, Leadership

Fire Commentary: The Next Guy

By Sam Baretich

This story is a satire of four fire service employees: Everybody, Somebody, Nobody, You, and The Next Guy.

You’re probably saying “Wait, that’s five employees. This guy can’t even count, let alone do a hydraulics formula in his head!” You will understand my math shortly.

At every fire department across the country, there are thousands of things to do around the station every day in between emergency calls. Everybody seems to think that their training could be better, their facilities could be nicer, and their equipment could be in better operating condition. We all know how it is–firefighters like to complain. The problem, it seems, is that Everybody thinks it’s the job of Somebody to make these improvements, when the reality is that Nobody is taking the initiative to make things happen. So in turn Everybody begins to suffer.

All that needs to happen is for Somebody to start doing the little things that really add up after a while and that Everybody benefits from. Nobody seems to notice the small changes at first. But the reality is that Somebody will start to notice You doing some of the little things and, in turn, Somebody will start helping You.

The snowball effect starts happening and pretty soon Everybody is busy making it a better place to work. After a while, Nobody is sitting around talking about how things could be better.

If you noticed, this little story took a turn in the fourth paragraph with the introduction of the word YOU. After YOU became involved in the situation, things started to change. When YOU started to do a little, Somebody noticed and started doing a little too. The moral is that: Nobody has an excuse for expecting Somebody to do the little things that Everybody benefits from. It’s up to YOU to do the little things that make this place better for Everybody.

Don’t leave things for The Next Guy to take care of. You see, The Next Guy got tired of picking up the slack for Everybody and just quit doing all that little stuff. Nobody realized how much The Next Guy was doing until that stuff just wasn’t getting done, leaving Everybody wishing that Somebody would start doing that stuff again.

It’s real simple. Make a point to leave it better than you found it.

This is defined by things like:

  • Sweeping out the floorboards and wiping the dust off the apparatus dash every morning during rig checks. This is called pride. The apparatus are not yours, they are provided to You, by the taxpayers, for You to take care of and to provide a service to them. In turn, this is also how you are making a living. After all, you could be hanging wallboard! Show them You appreciate the opportunity to use this equipment.
  • Do good rig checks; I mean really good rig checks. This is also a component of pride.
  • Make sure every tool is in the condition You would want it in if your house was the one on fire.
  • Make sure the back of the medic unit is as clean as You would want it to be if, heaven forbid, one of your family members were the next ones to be transported in it. Make sure it is in this condition after every call. Yep, pride again. Pride should be what that sticker in the window of your vehicle means to you. The sticker looks cool. Pride around the department looks cool, too.
  • When You walk by something at the station that wasn’t put back in its place, return it to its place regardless of whether or not You were the one who used it. There is a chance that Nobody will notice it but there is a better chance that Somebody will. Either way, Everybody will benefit from what You did.
  • It can be as simple as turning the lights and TV off when You leave the room or switching the water temperature to cold on the washing machine. Lights and hot water cost money. Having You riding around in half-million dollar fire engines 10 days a month costs money, too. The money for both comes from the same place. You make the choice–through your actions–about which is more important to You: A well-lit, empty room, or the security that the taxpayers will be able to afford to keep You riding around in that truck. Pretty simple.
  • Take a look around. If something is dirty, clean it. If something is broke, fix it, or at least make sure initiate the process to fix it.
  • If something isn’t in the condition that You would be proud for a member of another department to see, then change it so You would be proud.
  • If You see Somebody doing something, put the smartphone down and go see if they need a hand. You may actually learn something from what Somebody else is doing. Eventually Everybody would have the knowledge of Somebody and Nobody would be doing all the work.
  • Take care of yourself; your body is the most important tool of the trade. Everybody is counting on you to do this.
  • Cherish traditions but embrace progressive change. Traditions are what Somebody else did in the past. Progressive change is what You should be a part of today. What You are doing now will be the traditions of Somebody tomorrow that Everybody will cherish. In a few years, Nobody will understand why You were so resistant to the idea of making a few changes for the better.
  • Get involved your organization’s union and department functions. After all, You are the union, and You are the department. What You do will make things better for Everybody. Even if You think Nobody notices or cares, Somebody will benefit whether they realize it or not.
  • The Next Guy will appreciate the efforts Everybody has made. If You haven’t figured it out yet, every morning when You show up to relieve the guy going home, You fill the role of The Next Guy. Five labels, four people. It’s up to You to pick up up the slack of the fifth guy.

Once again, leave it better than you found it.

Sam Baretich joined the fire service in 1994 and is a captain with the Aberdeen (WA) Fire Department.