Commentary: FIRE Your Priorities

Three firefighters with hoselines
Photo by Tim Olk.

By Timothy W. Honeycutt

Photo by Tim Olk

Throughout life we have heard that we must keep our priorities straight. However, priorities are different for each person. My question is: Where are your priorities? I would like to suggest an easy way to gain some perspective and help us all understand how we set our priorities.

In the fire service, we use acronyms for everything: RECEO, VEIS, DNR, etc. are mainstays in our profession. Let’s consider another acronym that correlates to the priorities we have in our life. We all joined the fire service for one main reason, to fight FIRE! There is nothing like the adrenaline rush of climbing in the jump seat just after the dispatcher said those magic words: “Caller reports smoke and fire showing.” I suggest that F-I-R-E should be an easy acronym for us to remember, so let’s break this down for establishing our priorities.

F – Family

No matter what rank you may be in your organization and no matter how long you’ve served the public, we can never lose sight of the fact that family comes first. If you work 20, 25, or even 40 years in the fire service, at some point we all must face the fact that our time in public service will end. The day you run your final call and have your piece of cake and your co-workers wish you well, you will get in your car and drive home. They will continue responding to the needs of citizens. The new rookie firefighter will come to work, and when your name is mentioned by the senior firefighters, the rookie will have no clue who they are talking about. Your life in public service will be complete, but your family at home will be the mainstay that is always there. Every time you walk out of your house to begin a tour, rest assured they are worried about you. Your family at home should always be your top priority. Do we place work ahead of them? I know at points in my career I had my priorities out of line. I would continue to take training classes and be away from home for days on end in pursuit of my career, all while my family was sitting at home. Yes, I was in pursuit of that career to better my family, but were those 40 courses in five years really necessary?  Because I was constantly in pursuit of my career, I began to drift away from my family. At the end of your public service career, your family will still be there. Family is always first!

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I – Integrity

In public service, we are held to a higher standard. In the eyes of children, we are larger than life heroes. When someone dials 911, we are there to save the day. We may view an incident as routine and nothing, but to that caller it is the worst day in their life. When a public servant crosses the line and their integrity is lost, what does the local media say? “Local firefighter arrested for DUI” or “firefighter charged with theft of property.” You never read that an accountant was arrested for DUI. Our integrity is a mainstay in our profession as well as in our life. Integrity is defined as “the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles, moral uprightness.” Can you lose your integrity and get it back? My answer is yes, you can. Ten years ago I lost my integrity through a series of bad choices that I made. No one forced me to make those decisions; I made those on my own. A decade later, after proving myself over and over to many people and working diligently to regain their trust, I have tried to prove once again that I am a man of integrity. Do you have integrity in all that you do? “The measure of a man is not in how much money he makes, but in his integrity and his ability to affect those around him positively” – Herm Edwards, Head Football Coach, Arizona State University.

R – Responsibility

When it comes to responsibility, who is the person you are most responsible for? I will give you a hint…look in the mirror! We are responsible for our own actions first. We are responsible for the choices we make. We are responsible for the decisions we make on an emergency incident. We must take responsibility for ourselves. We often hear of people making the wrong choice and trying to push the blame on everyone else. At some point, we all must look in the mirror and own the decisions we make. If you want to be effective in your job as a first responder, be responsible! Being responsible for your actions and decisions is not a choice, it is a must. I am a father of five children and while, yes, it is a struggle at times, I love them all with passion. I know the decisions I make as a father and as a husband are mine and mine alone because I am responsible for the choices I make. I must be aware how they will affect not only me but my family.

Own the decisions you make and be responsible and people will respect you more!

E – Education

When is the last time you took a class away from your organization? Has it been 12 months? Three years? Ten years? How can you expect to be effective in your profession when you don’t seek training to better prepare yourself? With technology being a mainstay in today’s society, there is no reason for first responders to be unprepared. Taking the time to train is mission critical for any organization and for all first responders. Their will come a time in your career where you will be holding life in the balance. A person will be looking to you and expecting you to save their life. It could be a citizen, a guest in your community, or even a co-worker. Are you prepared? Have you spent 30 minutes to do your own research? There are thousands of videos online to help you be better prepared to perform your duties effectively. Even if your department does not have a training budget or program we all have an avenue to maintain a state of readiness thanks to the world of technology. Are you aware that many classes through the National Fire Academy and other training institutes are available free of charge? All it takes is a little time every shift for you to educate yourself and be prepared at all times. Education is critical!

I hope you still remember the day when you received that phone call offering you a position as a firefighter and the excitement you felt at that moment in your life. Do you still have that same excitement today? Have you allowed your priorities to get out of line? I encourage you to think about your life and where you have set your priorities. Although this article is merely my thoughts and ideas, feel free to adjust your life priorities and goals to meet the needs of your family, as you see necessary as long as your family is first and the rest you work at each day. Stay safe and FIRE. your priorities!

Timothy W. Honeycutt is the fire chief and director of emergency management for the city of Pelham, Alabama. He is a 27-year veteran of the fire service, holds a bachelor’s degree in public safety administration, and is a nationally registered Paramedic. He also serves as chairman of the board for the National Center for Fire and Life Safety and has been a keynote speaker at many events. He holds 35 certifications at the state level and 20 certifications in various disciplines on a national level.