Talkin' 'bout my generation

By Brian Ward

AP Photo/Michael Manning
Graduates at The Massachusetts Firefighting Academy applaud their fellow firefighters.
I was recently looking through a list of classes for a firefighter symposium coming up, and there it was — "New Generation: Is it killing us?" It sought to address the concerns of those who often talk about "Them kids these days…" Who are "these kids?" Well as part of Generation Y — having been born in '84 —  me for starters.

Some of you will believe whole heartedly that "them kids" are killing us, but let's look at a couple of things before we go too far on that. There are various generations out there; Lost, GI, Silent, Baby Boomers, X, MTV, Y, and the latest, Z Generation.

Each generation was brought into a unique environment, but there are individuals who succeed and fail from each. When the Baby Boomers were coming up, I'm pretty sure that their parents said, "Heaven help us if they ever run this country!"

Pushing themselves
My parents didn't have to worry about me running the country; they just wanted me to get out of high school. I think it's fair to say that there are some lackluster personnel (commonly referred to by more descriptive terminology) that come into the fire service every day and a lot of them do not know how to "work," or the difference between pain and hurt, or how to push themselves.

Here's a perfect example of what I've commonly seen with my generation: While using a chainsaw was commonplace for me growing up, most of the people coming into the service today barely know which end cuts. Or, when given the favorite newbie job of bathroom duty, they have to be shown what Windex is. But for me, if they've never been introduced to these things how can they be expected to know it? As I was saying earlier, I am a part of the Generation Y time period.

My message to my generation in the fire service is this: whatever you do, you do it 110 percent, even when scrubbing the toilet. If your crew can't trust you to simply clean the bathroom, how can they trust you on the fireground?

But putting all of this together, after looking at the various generations and backgrounds of people in the fire service, Generation Y is certainly not killing the firefighters. But on the flipside, we're not getting smarter either —it's the same mistakes over and over from generation to generation. We still have people refusing to sign the Seat Belt Pledge.

Way to connect
However, what is clear to me is that we have to find a way to connect the veterans to the rookies. We have to close that gap. Rookies need to be in everyone's back pocket, sucking in as much knowledge as they can handle.

The veterans in turn need to remember that the performance of their crew is based on their leadership. They need to share their knowledge. I was lucky in my early years having company officers taking an interest in my career and what I wanted to do with it. I was pushed to be great at what I did; sub par wasn't an option and that fact was made clear.

With that I made my mistakes, but you learn from them and you move on — you grow up! Not everyone is going to have the luxury of having a great company officer, as some of them are just there to collect a paycheck. That's when people from my generation have got to learn to step up and step out on their own.

For people entering the service, keep in mind that some people will tell you getting an education is worthless, that if you do extra work you're just brown nosing, etc. But, believe me it's worth sticking to your guns because it will make a difference in the end. Ultimately, if one thing that you pass on in the future saves an injury or a death then it's all worth it — and that's the responsibility of all generations. 

Brian Ward is a Training Officer in the Career Development Division for the Gwinnett County Fire Department and the Vice-Chairman of the Metro Atlanta Training Officers. Brian currently serves as a State of Georgia Advocate for Everyone Goes Home and Courage to be Safe Trainer. He holds an Associates Degree of Fire Science and is pursuing his Bachelors with the University of Cincinnati. He is also the Founder of and organizer of Gwinnett County Leadership and Safety Conference. Brian can be contacted at

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