Commentary by Aaron Heller
Before you read this blog, ask yourself one simple question. Although you were appointed to the fire department and perhaps even promoted to a leadership role, were you ever anointed by your peers?
Every firefighter serving their community today was appointed to their respective fire department when they began their careers. This appointment may have been the culmination of a long and arduous application process involving written and oral testing, along with some form of a physical performance evaluation. In some cases it was a simple process of filling out an application and being approved to begin the probationary period of the organization. Either way, it is safe to say that the appointment came from the governmental or administrative arm of the agency and not from our peers in the firehouse. This serves as our official appointment.
However, simply having a badge pinned to your chest and a set of turnout gear with your name on it does not mean that the firefighters you now work with will immediately invite you into the family and shower you with praise and respect. Praise and respect should not be handed out like seventh place trophies on elementary school field day!
To be anointed by those in your firehouse or department you have to prove you are worthy in their eyes. This doesn’t come overnight. It comes with what most firefighters will simply label “doing the right thing.” So, what is the right thing(s) when it comes to the being the probie, the newly promoted company officer, or even the chief?
Here are a few ways to earn your anointment in the eyes of your peers. Get to the firehouse early for each shift. If shift change is officially 0700 hours, be there no later than 0630 hrs. A very well respected athlete and coach has told me many times that late is unacceptable, on time is late, and early is on time! Be prepared to work when you walk through the door. Your equipment must be checked and ready, your uniform must look good, and your mind must be in the game. Learn how to make the coffee and always step up to do the dishes. A good officer and/or senior fireman will try to do their own, but the probie should always offer. Be engaged in the job. Ask questions regarding equipment, tactics, or even firehouse life. Constantly think like a fireman. Size up doors when you’re on a medical run at a nursing home, estimate the stretch of the grocery store when you’re out on the meal run, and note hydrant locations when you are out on building inspections. Finally, as the probie in any firehouse in the world, I strongly suggest you thicken your skin a bit! Have a sense of humor and realize that even in the P.C. world we live in, firehouse humor will always exist and quite often the good natured ribbing may be headed your way. Take it graciously, and, so long as it is not nasty, offensive, or injurious, keep smiling!
Many times promotions are based simply on the buddy system, volunteer fire company election nights, or, in many departments, a high test score. None of these paths to promotion precludes one from being a competent fire officer and leader however, none are clear paths to being anointed by your fellow firefighters or the fire service in general. No matter our rank or title, it is our responsibility to prove daily that we deserve the honor to wear our department’s patch and badge. We prove this through deeds and not words. All members should lead by example because someone is always watching us. It may be our brother and sister firefighters, a city council person, a business owner, or more importantly a small child who dreams of riding that shiny rig one day. Our deeds include our attitude toward the job, our fire family, and those we took the oath to serve. Furthermore, our drive to stay at the top of our game, both mentally and physically is exhibited through our performance. We continually prove we belong by honing our skills and showing our reliability every shift. Our desire to make our crew, our battalion, and our department the best shows through our all-in attitude and is why we are anointed with the title of firefighter, officer, or leader by our peers and not simply by the authority having jurisdiction.
Aaron Heller is a 37-year fire service veteran who is a deputy chief of the Hamilton (NJ) Fire Department. He has served as the lead instructor of the FDIC Commercial Fireground HOT program and been a host of Fire Engineering’s Humpday Hangout. He is the owner On Scene Training Associates, LLC.
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