Ive always had the understanding that firefighters were, as the job title implies, those who fight

I`ve always had the understanding that firefighters were, as the job title implies, those who fight the fires. However, it appears not all firefighters choose to honor their profession and join the fight. Is something missing from our new breed, or has the Paper World taken over?

Books, procedures, and policy manuals have been written to help keep us safe when in our hostile work environment. However, fire doesn`t play fair, and most of the time it writes its own manual. Firefighters must often go beyond the manuals and policies and draw from another source–their own experience and the learned experiences of others who have “been there and done that.” For years, experience has been the last well from which to draw help, and it is still here to provide help today.

Unfortunately, some of today` s company officers have received their bugles from a highly promoted “Paper Tiger,” one who has fought the majority of his fires on flipcharts and in classrooms–the same ranking manager who came from somewhere in private industry knowing very little about fire. The supervisors he will promote have one thing in common–they are engulfed in paper and have no street experience.

This is creating a reliance on written guidelines to formulate tactics and strategies as more than one firefight has turned into a fire watch, thanks to the “Paper Tigers” now commanding our incidents. I, along with countless others, have nothing but contempt for the “Paper Tigers” of the fire service …. I`ve often asked myself, How do we put an end to this hiring practice? The answer always come up, Work harder. Work on your own promotability, enroll in job-specific courses … and be ready to step up to the next position of leadership. Reading the books and attending classes are equally as important, but drawing from those who have experienced fighting the fires you will have to fight tomorrow is equally as important ….

It`s fine to have a mentor, for in our profession a mentor can be one of the most reliable educational tools available. My mentors are also my heroes, and I can say they have brought me to new levels in performance. These heroes, with their New York accents and Los Angeles suntans, have given the most important possession they own–their lives. They have inspired me and given me direction; I`m not willing to give up my fire service to one who is not a firefighter.

Fire watching is not acceptable, nor is the sacrifice of a brother who blindly follows the orders of someone marginally prepared for leadership. Now, more than anytime in the history of the fire service, is the time for firefighters to step up and regain control of our future. Send the “Paper Tigers” back to the world of widget making. Let`s see firefighters back in charge of running the fire service. Let`s become well educated and bring our experiences to further the proficiency at the management level.

To those who fight the fire, stay prepared. To those who manage the firefight, expand your level of expertise. To those who talk about the fire and watch, hopefully, your time is limited.

Mike McCaffrey


Hayward (CA) Fire Department

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