By ARTHUR ASHLEY
Just a week ago, I attended the graduation of 27 probationary firefighters from the Lexington (KY) Fire Academy. I was there, along with my crew from my ladder company, because we were receiving one of the “probies”. While watching all of the pomp and circumstance, I started thinking to myself what an exciting time for these young people. I thought about my first day and how I was happy but nervous. My dream had started on a different level. I had already been volunteering for 8 years when I came on to the job in Lexington. Wanting to do the right thing and not failing was the two things that worried me most. I know these “probies” were experiencing the same feelings that I had, that is only human nature. But it goes beyond that, meaning that their flame in their heart should be starting to burn brighter. Any person that enters the fire service and does not have the burning desire to do this job, should probably stop, think about what the job requires, can they do the job, where they want to be and can they benefit the fire service. If you cannot stoke that fire or find the desire then maybe you should think about either trying harder by reaching deep inside to see if the flame is there or maybe it’s just not for you.
The fire service is rich in tradition which started hundreds of years ago with the first volunteer fire company in Philadelphia. Since then, departments have been created and grown in some way or another. From the size of the city or area covered to the technology that we have today. The same principle of fire extinguishment exists “put the wet stuff on the red stuff.” As cities grew and people headed westward, the need for fire protection grew daily, from the pail used to throw the water to hoses we use today. Along with this growing need came a service of honor and tradition. Men were dedicated to the preservation of life and property, by all means necessary. With this attitude came ‘brotherhood” and the traditions that are evident today. Look back at the equipment, study the faces of the men in those black and white pictures, marvel at the ornate firehouses and show great respect for those times in which they served. Those times can teach us so much because of a different generation involved. The “workers” of America and the will to be the best at what they did shows in the same attitude of the fire service.
Through the years things have happened in the fire service, that have changed the way we do things. From the 1800’s into the 1900’s, it was not unheard of to lose firefighters while they did there job due to collapse and fire itself. Accidents getting to the scene also claimed many as well. That was just accepted because of the job. It was dangerous, dirty, unpredictable and unforgiving. Those four words that describe the dangers of yesteryear still describe the fire service of today. But aren’t we trained better? Don’t we have the best equipment? Aren’t we trained for everything? Yes and no. You can still respond to a fire, do your best and be the best trained but still bad things can happen. Today, you have to add the health of the firefighter to those four words. We sometimes are our own worst enemy and must learn to take care of ourselves just as we take care of the equipment or the rig. The most important piece of equipment is yourself and the desire to do the job.
Now stop and think about where and when you started. Was it just recently or was it many years ago? How have you contributed to the fire service? What have you done to better yourself thus bettering your department? Many questions can be asked but stop and think what made you show interest in this “job” be it volunteer or paid. Does that passion for the job exist just as it did when you started or are you still trying to find it. Your attitude is everything in doing this line of work. A positive “can-do” attitude can go a long way especially when you are trying to be the best you can be. One thing to remember, there will always be persons that will bring you down, have bad attitudes, the “nay-sayers”, and simply the ones that do not get it. Simply put, you are in one of two categories, you are either a firefighter or an employee. This goes for both a paid or volunteer department because essentially you are employed by your volunteer department. A firefighter is the person who understands the goals and what it takes to achieve them. From putting the fire out to making that aggressive primary search. They are always trying to better themselves and they like to work as a team to accomplish the task. Their morale is high because of their “can-do” attitude. They want to learn and train to be the best. They realize that the public and their “brothers” depend on them. The employee is just that person who stands around, does not try to better themselves or their department. They don’t understand why we do the things we do, nor do they care. They do not understand tradition, brotherhood or the job itself. There simply is no passion about the greatest job in the world. There are a lot more employees than there are firefighters and this has to change.
Training is a must with the fire service and I don’t mean sitting in front of a computer and critique all the latest fire videos that have come out. You cannot learn to be a firefighter sitting behind a computer. You have to get your hands dirty and sweat. You have to learn and see it for real. Feel the heat, realize that ladder is heavy, total obscurity is not easy to work in and not to mention it’s hard work. The correct information must be obtained and conveyed in training. You must figure out what works for you and work smarter not harder. Training is a must and should not be neglected or taken lightly due to it being detrimental to the public, your crews and yourself.
Brotherhood is something that is felt when working close beside someone else. Saying you’ve been there and so has your buddy. Having each other’s back and being honest and loyal The term Brotherhood also refers to females within the fire service. There is no other job that I know of that you can walk into any fire house in the United States and talk shop with another firefighter and be accepted. It’s that invisible bond that keeps us together in those hot smokey hallways, in the firehouse, on the training ground, and away from work. The bond is as strong as anything on earth.
Be a mentor. Take that person and show them the right way to do things. Explain to them why we do them a certain way. Teach them tradition and help them to embrace it. Pass on a positive attitude and teach them how to pass on knowledge. If you have knowledge and experience, pass it on. You may be influencing others and you don’t even realize it. Take the time to answer questions and never turn someone away who is willing to learn. Take the time to show them how to do things because they should be “learn by doing” and make sure they retain it and understand it.
Fitness……it is what it is. This is a job that requires a person to be physically fit and strong, have endurance and flexibility. It’s not for everyone but not everyone understands that. This job is physically and emotionally demanding and it takes a certain person to do this. Some think that It will be easy and don’t realize the work that it takes. They then either toughen up, work to be stronger or they quit. When it comes to fitness I am not telling you any certain workout plan or diet or anything like that…………all that matters is that you do something to make yourself physically better. Your fitness can hurt you and make you unable to help others.
In closing, this is a way to make you think what made you want to be a firefighter and is that passion there. Is that drive there and are you trained well enough to make a difference. Persons that are in this business are either “go-getters” or they just simply stand back and watch the world go by. It takes true passion. What is your passion and does that flame still burn in your heart? Be the person that you want to be but make sure you are having an positive impact on the fire service, no matter where you are. Be a mentor and show the new persons the ropes, show them the traditions and help them embrace them. Always remember where you came from, no matter what rank you hold. Pass on your knowledge and always take the time to teach or talk to another brother. That’s how we carry on the traditions of the fire service.
ARTHUR LASHLEY is a captain with the Lexington (KY) Fire Department, where he is assigned to Ladder Company 1. He is a Kentucky level II instructor and fire school instructor, an adjunct instructor with the Fire Training Academy; and a training officer with Central Kentucky FOOLS.