At some point, all of us walked into the fire station for the first time as a firefighter. For most, this was a nerve-filled, highly anticipated moment when they finally saw some pretty big dreams come true. From that first moment we stepped through the door, we all had to gauge what it was going to take to impress the others, and find out what our role was going to be. The vast majority of firefighters would tell you that they did whatever it took to break through to the other side; the land of being full-fledged, one-of-the-guys. This meant showing up an hour before they had to, scrubbing the station on hands and knees, devouring food in seconds like a starved animal so that no one else could get to the dishes first, being the first to volunteer (even after hours of grueling hands-on training); literally, whatever it took. That is the “rookie mentality!”
For most of us, it was only a matter of minutes before we were known to the crew simply as “Rookie.” While both endearing and derogatory all at the same time, it truly is a badge of honor for each one of us. It means we were accepted into the greatest profession on the planet.
Those who have come before us have laid the foundations that have given the fire service a reputation of the utmost respect; very few others can say the same for their chosen profession. As someone who is just entering the fire service, it is vital that the rookie understand this.
There is no place for an attitude of entitlement in the fire service. Hard work and whole-hearted effort are among the necessary traits to being successful. Those who forget this are likely just buying time until they harm a citizen that they are supposed to protect, a fellow brother, and/or themselves. Each of us should strive to maintain some of the “rookie mentality.” The following are expectations that should always be met regardless of tenure.
Eagerness to learn the job– This entails academics, hands-on training, Q&A sessions, call responses, etc. We are a people in a continuously changing environment. As a result, we must rise to the occasion. Where each of us is at in our journey as a fireman looks different person by person. Day one could have been yesterday or may have been 34 years ago. Titles, responsibilities, knowledge and territories are all changing on a daily basis. As a firefighter, you have made the commitment to both your fellow brothers/sisters and the community that you serve that you are willing to adapt. From chief-of-department all the way down to probationary firefighter, those who are satisfied with remaining stagnant in their learning will quickly fall out of touch with their surroundings.
Support the crew– Plenty can be said about what this looks like in action. I will only touch on one small area of what it means to support. When it comes down to it, we should be seeking opportunities to be there for those we work with. Each of us will notice little things that can be accomplished throughout the day. Take the few minutes to see some of them through to completion. This could mean putting away a few dishes, washing off that spot under the apparatus where oil inevitably drips, cleaning out the compartment in the truck that is continually overlooked, etc. Making time for these seemingly menial tasks may appear to be only pointless busy work, but it all adds up. It may or may not lead to any particular recognition, but that is not the point. Pride in what you do should be the driving force behind it all.
Enjoy your time at the station– This really is the greatest profession around. It should not take much more than pulling into the parking lot to put a smile on your face. There is a reason we refer to the fire service as a brotherhood. By showing up to the station, each of us has the opportunity to spend time with a family who is there to support us, laugh with us, work with us, and live life by our side. I recently had the opportunity to hear from a well-seasoned captain about his outlook on coming to work. He said, “I’ve rarely had a bad day here. The only bad day I have ever had at the station is when we’ve lost a firefighter. Other than that, every day is a good day.” After several decades on the job, he has every right to be callused towards putting forth additional effort. Instead, he has made the conscious decision to make the most of his time that remains. He has become an invaluable resource to others in the department as a result.
To make an all-inclusive list of the ways we should daily approach firefighting would necessitate more than a single post. The intent of this one is to bring a couple of specific areas back to light, both because they are crucial, and also due to the fact that they are easily forgotten as time passes. Each of us would do well to carry the “rookie mentality” that first came with us through that station door.