Surviving the Fire Service: A few points to remember

Surviving in the fire service

At the Inception of your career:

 1)   Is it the right job for you: Don’t accept the job or stay in unless you have an understanding that your job requires humility, courage, and self-sacrifice. Always under promise and over deliver. You will always be expected to give more than you think you are capable of.

2)   Servant hood: The role of a firefighter is one of service. The public trusts that on their worst day you will be at your best. Strive to maintain that trust by staying disciplined.

 3)   The power of failure: When you make mistakes, learn from them, and let your failures build character and experience. It takes a lot of “Atta Boy’s!” to get over one “Oh Crap!.

 4)   Surround yourself with wise counsel. Develop an informal network of those who have been there and done that. Their knowledge and experience is valuable.

 5)   Be slow to speak and quick to listen: Take your hands out of your pockets and put your feelings there instead. It takes effort to do this job and it takes heart. If you walk around with your hands in your pockets, your jaws flapping, and you feelings on your sleeve you are destined for trouble. Listen intently, work hard, and one day you will be providing words of wisdom to someone like yourself.

 6)   The power of perception: Always know that a single interaction with the public leaves a lasting impression upon them of how the entire fire service behaves (scary but true!). Always leave the situation better than you found it. Mind your words, guard your temper, and treat others as family.

 7)   In the fire service you have two families: Your family at home and your fire service family. Your family comes first and your fire service family comes second. You will spend 1/3rd of your life with them. Do not take this lightly. Show them that you value them as family. (Rick Lasky)

 As you progress in your career:

 8)   Don’t forget where you came from! Lest you forget we all started as a rookie firefighter. If you left the job tomorrow the fire service would go on without you. As Charles De Gaulle said, the cemeteries of the world are full of indispensable men.

 9)   Learn to say “I don’t know.” If used when appropriate, it will be often.  It is okay not to know everything. Remember as a crew you achieve your goals as a team not through the efforts of one individual. Be wary of those who know everything.

 10)                Leadership: In the fire service leadership is earned not given. You must be respectable in order to earn the honor of your crew’s respect. The trumpets on your collar stand for Leader & Manager as a Captain. Don’t take those responsibilities lightly.

11)                Be precise. A lack of precision is dangerous when the margin of error is small. This is absolutely critical in the fire service where decisions made in a matter of seconds can determine the outcome of someone’s life.

 12)                Embrace Unity: Don’t divide the fire department into factions. We are one fire department and despite the other shift’s inadequacies you will find your shift isn’t perfect either. Don’t make excuses, take ownership, and move on.

 13)                Done beats perfect: Some days things do not go the way you would have wanted but if everyone went home safely, be thankful;  there will be a next time for you to improve.

 14)                 The foundation: Your performance depends on your people. Select the best, train them and back them. When errors occur, give sharper guidance. If errors persist or if the fit feels wrong, help them move on. The citizens you serve cannot afford amateur hour during their most critical moments. Public servants are paid to serve the American people. Do it well.

 Italics reference quotes from Rumsfield’s Rules

Stay safe & God Bless,

Andy J. Starnes

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