The following letter is one I wrote and give along with a binder of helpful information, contacts, and career development sheets to all new probies or personnel coming to work on my shift. What is said the first day is what is remembered; the second day, one-half is remembered; and the third day, all is forgotten.

“Welcome to your new shift. Congratulations on your new shift assignment and passing the recruit academy. Your dedication and efforts will be greatly regarded and honored by the citizens and your family.

“Right now begins the rest of your career. The status and reputation you earned and gained among your peers in the recruit academy are exactly that, in the recruit academy. You are a probie; you are not a firefighter or a brother until we deem so. Obtaining that status is not something that you will earn overnight. It is accomplished through hard work and dedication to your department and, above all, your shift.

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“Staple rules of this shift while under my command are as follows:

  • Be early to work.
  • Stop working only when I do or say to.
  • Part time will be every day, no excuses.
  • We will sit together at every meal.
  • Be sure to think before you speak. If you would not say verbatim to a person’s face what you are talking about, then do not say it.
  • Praise in public; persecution in private.
  • If one member has to stay awake, we all do.
  • I will value your input. I may not use it.
  • I will be harsh at times. I am not your best friend. I am responsible for your life.
  • If you have nothing to do, find me, or find something to do.
  • Always find a way to make yourself a better firefighter and us a better shift.
  • I don’t care how you did it or what you learned.
  • Human resources is a last resort. You will follow the chain of command and respect every position above and below you.
  • Train like you fight, and fight like you train. Your greatest moment will depend on it, as will the lives of your brothers and sisters.

“My job is to guide you, not hold your hand. Think, be smart, and be an innovator. I will do all I can to make you advance and help you until my back breaks. I expect the same in return.

“My job as your lieutenant is to better you and prepare you for the worst-case scenario. I also want you to one day take my position. I will never ask you to do something that I myself would never do. You are entering into one of the oldest and most honorable professions in the world. We follow in the footsteps of men who forged the processes that are the foundation of what we do today. It is your job to equal or surpass these men. Being humble in this line of work will make you shine. Being a know-it-all or a braggart will only make your career shorter and you less liked by all.

“You will see things most of the world has not seen: tragedy, strife, morbidity, and the worst mankind has to offer. We will respond to what the news will never report or is too gruesome to report. You will be expected to deal with this only to go home and tell your friends and family that it was a rough night. If you have children, you will be expected to still smile and tell them the world and people are good. Keep your stories and emotion to a minimum to your family and friends. It is only that exciting to you. How would you like to hear about an accountant’s day?

“Your family will suffer from your direct emotions and attitude if you do not keep them in check when returning home. You may feel isolated, alone, scared, or bewildered returning home after a rough night.

“This profession goes two ways: Either you choose it, or it chooses you. Only time will let you know which has been decided. Don’t rush it; it will happen soon enough.

“You will soon see that you have two families. Your first and foremost is your blood. The second is those you bleed for. Be sure to discern the two. Shop talk, vulgarity, practical jokes, and dark humor are not what your family deserves. They have accepted your career as much as you and will have to sacrifice a lot for you to continue on your path. It will serve you well to remember that. Never, never take them for granted, and always put them first. Your brothers, if true to that word, will see this, and it will only make you shine more in their eyes.

“Your second family, your brothers, can only be defined as, ‘what you put in is what you will get out of it.’ When you are dead and gone, the only thing left of you will be your word and the memories of how you acted to them. This will ensure that they will take care of ‘their family,’ yours that you leave behind.

“Use the word ‘brother’ only after they have earned it. It is not something to be thrown around. It is something earned.

“Never take a minute or a day for granted. Kiss your loved ones goodbye every day, and tell them you love them. You may not come home.

“The other side is the rewards you will gain from this career. You will see miracles. You will see the gift of life as it begins and the fulfillment of a long life as it ends. You will do great things, extraordinary things during your career, some only seen by you and the person you save, some seen by all. Relish those moments. They are the fuel that will keep you going through a cold dark night and at times keep you strong when you ask yourself, ‘Why do I do this?’

“Every patient, every call has a story. Stay quiet long enough to hear it. Keep a journal of all your calls, your day on the job. Your children and family may one day want to know what you have done and what made you the person you have become.

“I can only write so much. The rest is for you to write. With this being said, welcome aboard. I look forward to helping you start your career with our department and seeing you grow within it. Any time you need to talk, learn, or even teach something, I will be there. It is just what brothers do. Now stop reading this, and get to work. These people aren’t going to save themselves, and your sitting here sure as hell isn’t helping you to learn how to.”

Warren Smith
Lieutenant, Fire Services
New Hanover County
Wilmington, North Carolina


Great cover

My compliments on the beautiful cover on the April issue of Fire Engineering. It is a nice change and represents a new dimension (to me, at least) of Paul Combs’ many talents.

Clinton Smoke
Fire Protection Specialist
Skyland (NC) Volunteer Fire Department


The Maltese Cross

Kudos to Edmund J. Enright and Kurt Glosser for taking us back to our roots in “The Maltese Cross: Virtues for Today’s Fire Service” (One Minute Motivator, April 2014). The eight points of the Maltese Cross should be instantly recited on request with a full explanation by anyone professing to be a “firefighter.” It is the core of what we do and what we stand for. If you have a computer system in your department, why not make the Maltese Cross the normal background with each point labeled? For easy recall, you can remember the eight steps using the mnemonic GOLD STEP: Gallantry, Observation, Loyalty, Dexterity. Sympathy, Tact, Explicitness, Perseverance.

Terry Canfield
Spokane (WA) Fire Department

Editor’s note: In the June Apparatus Supplement to Fire Engineering, the Waterous CAFSystem should have been identified as the Waterous ONE STEP CAFSystem. We regret the error.

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 Originally ran in Issue 8 and Volume 167