How to stay busy in a single engine firehouse

The bosses never want to see you sitting down or slacking off

By Scott Ziegler

As a trialman — probie, rookie, subbie, FNG, whatever they call you — in the Detroit Fire Department, like any other fire department, you have to stay busy during the day. And some days (not often), there might not be any runs until after dark.

The bosses never want to see you sitting down or slacking off. Some camps (one of the terms we use when talking about different firehouses) have two or three companies. That means there will be eight to 12 people plus sometimes a chief, making a mess for you to keep clean all day. Some might think that would be a bad thing. Well take it from a guy at a single engine camp, it's not. Since your job is to stay busy all day long, the more there is to clean up, the easier staying busy will be! 


I start my day off at 6:30 a.m. with the obvious. Cleaning the bathrooms, cleaning the kitchen, mopping the floors. Then there's the officers' quarters and bathroom. All of that needs to be spotless. Most of the guys are drinking coffee in the morning so there will be dishes. And sometimes, if there wasn't a trialman working the night before, there will be a few dishes left over from late night snacks. 

Then there's soup. In the Detroit Fire Department, it is tradition that the FEO (Fire Engine Operator) makes soup every morning, usually out of yesterday's leftovers. Sound weird? Believe it or not, it is probably the best soup I've ever had. At my firehouse, the boss is big on us eating together, so I wait for him to tell me to put the mop down and eat some soup. Soup for breakfast. Once you try it, you won't argue with it. I promise. And now I have more dishes to do. It's funny how having to do dishes actually makes me happy. Something else to take up time. 

Around 9:00 a.m., we go out and spend a couple hours checking for wet hydrants and pumping them. There's another two to three hours gone. 

When I get back to the station, I have around eight more hours to go. The station is pretty spotless, except for the kitchen. Someone will be cooking lunch right about then, making more dishes for you to clean! Those dishes are such a relief. But what do you do after lunch and dishes? You have until 8:00 p.m. to stay busy. 

Since my firehouse was built in the 50s and there hasn't been a trialman there in the last four years, there's a lot of things that need to be "updated." My boss and senior man told me on my first day, "This is your firehouse. Make it your fireHOUSE.” What would you do at home if your bathroom needed to be painted? You would paint it. But remember you have six months to do these things, and your station is small ... the key here is to use a small brush!

And remember, when it's 8:00 at night it doesn't mean you should stop doing whatever it is that you're doing. Work a little past 8:00 and finish the job. When you're done, don't go running to your bunk to grab your cellphone and upload your latest firehouse selfie. Stay up and converse with the guys you work with. Keep things clean even though, technically, you are "off." You really aren't ... ever.

Pick projects that you can tackle in a day or two, and maybe even a couple larger ones that you can spread out over the course of your time as a trialman. Pick things that will stand out so that people notice that you are taking pride in your engine house. It is your house now. Leave a mark. 

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