These are the Top 3 obligations you accept when you add firefighter to your name. These are true if you are the recruit Firefighter all the way up to the Fire Chief. Whether you are paid or a volunteer, your obligations do not change. I want to apologize for I am about to get on my soapbox, I shouldn’t but I am going to anyway.
3. Competence in your job
We all are expected to earn the respect of our peers and our community by understanding and performing our duties in a competent manner. If you are the firefighter who has the main responsibility of cleaning the heads and pulling lines, or the Battalion Chief with responsibility of incident management, know this: The fire does not burn differently if you are not competent or inexperienced and it damn sure does not care about your pay status. The competence factor is one that ensures you make decisions that will not cause your teammates to have to risk their lives to save yours. This does not mean once you have had a few fires you can stop learning. A wise Firefighter once told me that in this profession every day is school day, if you are not learning something new every day you are falling behind and becoming less competent and prepared to handle the ever-changing Fire Service environment. So, commit to lifelong learning or find some other profession to do that won’t put others at risk.
2. Accept Responsibility for your Actions
Firefighting is not an exact science. There are many appropriate ways to fight a fire. There are also several wrong ways to do this job. If you miss reread the signs or make a decision that does not work, do not stand behind that decision accept it, learn from it and move on. I have seen on many occasion in my career, people stand and try to defend a task or tactic that was proven wrong. I have even heard them say if I had to do it all over again, I would make the same decision. That is not accepting responsibility for a mistake. It is not learning from it and it doesn’t install confidence from your peers. You will gain more respect from your team if you own your missteps and learn from them and try not to make the same mistake twice.
1. Ethical Behavior
When you accept the firefighter position you represent a long list of firefighters who came before you. There are certain benefits that come with this name. I am not talking about discounted meals or any other monetary perk, I am talking about respect of the community. With this respect comes some strings, you are expected to conduct yourself in a certain manner. This is on-duty and off-duty, in your professional live and your private life. How often do you see headlines in the media that a firefighter did this or that? Had they been a private citizen the same event would have no media attention but because it was a fire fighter its headlines. The same thing occurs in social media, recently I had an exchange with a so-called firefighter who was using inappropriate language (F-Bombs & sexual comments) and bullying others. I pointed out that what they were doing was reflecting poorly on all firefighters. The response I received was physically impossible. Then I became the focus of the groups attack, I was called a hobbyist and lacked leadership because I was attacking someone with PTSD who had had over 100 rescues from burning buildings. Are you kidding me! Wow imagine my embarrassment he was an actual hero. No matter what, hero or not ethical behavior is not negotiable for the fire service.
So, if you are a formal or informal leader, a Chief Officer or (as I have heard so many times) “I’m Just a Firefighter “and you observe any firefighter not meeting their obligation pull them aside and say something. The Career/life you save maybe your own.