Regardless of your motivation to join the fire service or where you are in the process of becoming a firefighter, you have a vested interest in the fire service as a whole. This means you should be doing everything you can to be the best firefighter candidate, probationary firefighter or career firefighter you can be and to carry on the tradition of excellence that others have worked so hard to establish.
You are the future of the fire service. You must promote your profession as a whole and understand what it means to be a firefighter.
In these economically tough and uncertain times, it is critical to help maintain the highest level of respect from those who matter most: the general public. Hundreds of thousands of firefighters, paid and volunteer, have established a great foundation and laid the groundwork for us all.
It is essential to carry on their legacy by maintaining the level of service, competence, honor and respect that they lived and sometimes died for. You owe it to them, you owe it to your profession and you owe it to yourself.
So as we approach the time of year when we are giving thanks, have appreciation for those firefighters who preceded you who have given their lives and brought so much awareness to the sacrifices we are willing to make and those who were fortunate enough to work an entire career performing their duties with so much pride, professionalism, honor and integrity.
They have all helped to shape the fire service and make it one of the most respected and honored professions in the world, a movement that you are now a part of.
Never forget this legacy or those who established it. Never forget those who bravely gave their lives for the sake of others, and never take for granted what every firefighter who came before you has given to you.
Here are some suggestions for paying homage and helping to uphold the highest level of respect and honor in this profession:
1) Hold yourself to the highest moral standards and conduct at all times. When firefighters make news in positive ways, it reflects positively on all firefighters and the fire service.
Conversely, it also reflects on all firefighters and the fire service when firefighters make the news in negative ways. The general public will not remember a name or even an agency. But it will remember that person was a firefighter.
It is also important to keep in mind that you represent your profession both on- and off-duty. If you conduct yourself in a respectful manner only when you are in uniform, you are not doing your part to promote goodwill. We spend one-third of our lives on duty, but we are firefighters 24/7.
People will know you're a firefighter even when you’re not on in uniform. Your neighbors, friends and the general public all know what you do and who you are. We even put stickers on our vehicles to tell strangers that we are firefighters.
If Joe Citizen has a firefighter neighbor who is inconsiderate, loud, rude or obnoxious, it makes all firefighters look bad. If Joe Citizen is driving and gets cut off by a truck with a union sticker on it, it makes all of us look bad.
If Joe Citizen overhears an off-duty firefighter cursing or talking about the prior night's drunken exploits, it makes all of us look bad. You are not just a firefighter 10 days a month. You are a firefighter each and every day, so always act like one.
2) Do not brag about your job, but do not downplay what you do, either. I have found that many of us either play up our job or play it down. You should defend negative stereotypes with humility and factual information. I often find people like to think that I get paid to sit around all day.
It can seem humble to go along with that, joke about it and not talk about the work I do, but it is important for the public to know what our job entails beyond fires and rescues.
From business inspections to vehicle and equipment maintenance, training, public education, and medical aids, some of which can be life-threatening without our immediate intervention, the reality is that most firefighters do much more than just go to fires and perform rescues.
It is important for those who do not know all that we do to become more informed. At the same time, it is not helpful to brag, boast or play up our job duties. No one likes a braggart.
3) Keep all interactions with the public positive. Be warm and generous with your time and offerings. Go out of your way to be polite, respectful and helpful. Treat every man, woman and child as if they are your boss, because the reality is that they are.
From preschool on up, children are taught to trust us, rely on us, look up to us and respect us. These early impressions and attitudes need to be constantly reinforced. Live up to the positive image that is taught to our children every chance you get and across all ages.
It is amazing how quickly these children grow into adults. Many become parents themselves, some become fellow firefighters, and some others may even become city council or board members, but they all become voters.
Do not underestimate how political the fire service has become and how important it is for the services we provide and for our firefighters to be viewed in the most positive light within our immediate communities and beyond.
4) Don’t be greedy. Just like people lose respect for professional athletes when they go on strike demanding more money, many feel the same way when they hear that firefighters are squabbling over their contracts, especially when times are tough.
It important to work to maintain our contracts and stay competitive, but we should never be unrealistic as to what we should expect and demand in the way of compensation. Doing so can lead to pricing yourself out of a job. In many parts of the country, private contract companies are just waiting to get themselves established and grossly underprice our services.
Appreciate your pay and benefits, and focus more on earning the paycheck that you do have rather than justifying getting a bigger one. If you can do this, you will not only earn respect from the public and your peers, but you will also find your job even more rewarding. Most important, you will also help to keep the fire service the high-level public service it is now. So stop asking for more and start doing more, or you may find yourself getting replaced with a much lesser-paid, less-skilled private sector employee.
To paraphrase a quote from one of the greatest leaders of all time: Ask not what your community can do for you, but what you can do for your community. Always give more than you take. If you are just entering the fire service, live below your means, and focus on what’s most important: the services you provide, not the paycheck that you receive.
5) Know your job and perform it to the highest level possible. Everything I mentioned is incredibly important, but it means little if we show up on scene and do not do our job. You must not only look, act and play the part; you must also be efficient and effective when it matters most. This means staying fit, training and preparing yourself to carry out each and every one of the duties that may be asked of you in the safest and most effective way.
Firefighters before us laid the groundwork for increased efficiency, improved safety standards and superior equipment. Many have died so that we might learn how to be safer on the job. These sacrifices have led to increased firefighter safety and survival and improved success in our operations. Make our predecessors proud by being as dedicated, skilled and knowledgeable in your duties as they were and continuing to build upon their legacy of proficiency and commitment to the job.
In our personal lives, we all have things and people to give thanks for this season. But if you are an aspiring or working firefighter in any capacity, be sure to give thanks to the firefighters who lived and died for the fire service and helped make it the most trusted and respected profession in the world. There is no better way to give thanks than to carry on their great legacy and tradition of excellence, and there is no better way to secure the future of the fire service then to do so with the same level of honor, pride and selflessness.