My entire life, my parents have told me “it’s all what you make of it.” Like any kid, I would roll my eyes and say, “ok whatever”. The truth is, everything in your life is “all what you make of it.” As a firefighter in today’s fire service, this statement is true more than ever.
I believe that we can all agree that the fire service is changing. In some ways there is change for the better and in others, it seems the changes occurring are having a negative effect on the service. Change occurs daily, like it or not. It is a much different fire service today than 10 or even 20 years ago. In today’s fire service, your mind set as an individual has the biggest effect on your company and your performance.
We live in a world of political correctness, human resources, and lawsuits. I am not being negative; it’s simply the truth. Has good come from the influx of these types of game changing factors? Yes. No longer can you haze a firefighter for not pulling the line right by duct taping him to a telephone pole and soaking repeatedly with the line he pulled wrong. (Yes it happened, and yes I learned how to pull the line…..) No longer can you pull a prank of a sexual nature on the female firefighter. No longer can you degrade a person to the point of a mental breakdown for not producing. Do these things still occur? Yes, but on a lesser scale. Do these behaviors and consequences bring about change at the targeted audience? Often times yes, but in a time not so long ago. The only practical way to bring about a change in behavior in today’s fire service is to act as a mentor to your brothers and sisters, create a positive, productive individual from day 1, and foster a workplace that is centered around the people and firefighting/EMS first and foremost, and everything else second.
In this climate I discussed in the previous paragraph, is there a negative impact on the fire service? Without a doubt. Sometimes a firefighter needs a swift kick in the behind to get them back on track. The manner in which we give that kick has changed. Years ago, we actually physically gave that kick, which will get your fired and sued. Now, that kick comes through positive reinforcement, training, mentoring, reality check conversations, and if the point still doesn’t get across to the troubled firefighter, possibly some harsh words that bring the person back to earth. Just make sure those harsh words are free of racial, sexual, religion based comments. I am a firm believer that as a leader, both formal and informal, you do everything in your power to help a firefighter that is struggling. If they continue to fail because they just don’t care, they need to be shown the door.
Earlier in this post, I made the statement,
“the only practical way to bring about a change in behavior in today’s fire service is to act as a mentor to your brothers and sisters, create a positive, productive individual from day 1, and foster a workplace that is centered around the people and firefighting/EMS first and foremost, and everything else second.”
By using the above as a guide to groom the individual development of the crew, you create an individual that can think on his or her own, an individual that is driven, and an individual that understands “it is all what you make of it.”
A firefighter in today’s fire service that is driven to consistently build their skill level through training, learn from every run, and prepare for the worst case scenario can find that the fire service may be a lonely place at times. A firefighter that does the right thing day in and day out may find that the fire service may also be quite a lonely place as well. It is times such as these that your entire career is centered upon the statement “it is all what you make of it.” If you let the outside factors that frustrate you, upset you, and bring you down, change your course, you have failed. Set your compass, and head in the right direction, even when it hurts. “It is all what you make of it” each day at work. If you come to work in a bad mood with a lack of motivation, guess what? You have chosen what to make of it. When the rest of your company isn’t motivated and you are in the bay training alone, you have chosen what to make of your tour, and can often positively influence your brothers and sisters.
Choose positive firefighters to associate with and confide in. I often reach out to my mentors who remind me to stay the course and keep pushing, even when the road seems impassable. Those simple text messages from my mentors are often the motivation I need to regroup and continue.
Finally, I have heard the statement recently, “going to fires builds morale.” I agree fully. When I fight a fire regularly for a stretch of time, my morale is wonderful. Responding to fires cannot be the only factor that controls your morale. Fires are down in this country. Simply stated, we do not fight the amount of fires that we did even 10 years ago. Should our focus on being ready to fight fire change with the lower numbers of working fires we encounter? Absolutely not. My current assignment does not see much fire. I continue to recite to myself everyday, “it is all what you make of it” when I go in for a tour. In my mind, the big one can drop in at any time. I sharpen my skills, prepare my equipment, and treat every time the tones drop as the real deal. It is my career, my company, and my fire district. “It is all what I make of it.”
What are you making of your day? It is your choice.
Justin Graney is the Officer Development Instructor with Tailboard Firefighting of North Carolina, a Fire Engineer with the Raleigh-Durham International Airport Fire Rescue Department in Raleigh NC, and a Firefighter with the Youngsville Fire Department in Youngsville NC.