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Are You Giving or Taking?

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By John Morse

As you spend time in the fire service, you pass through different stages. When you first start, hopefully you don’t think you know everything and you learn from the people you work with.  When you get advice from other firefighters that is what I call the taking part of your career.  After you have been around a while, like 10 years, (not 6 months) you should have learned a lot and have some personal experience to add to your knowledge.  There are some firefighters that never give back, no matter how long they have been around.  Here are a few examples of how this process can work, or not work.

Firefighter new guy starts on the shift, and like usual, he gets grilled a little bit by everyone mostly because they want to find out about the new guy.  Firefighter new guy will call everyone sir, and address all the officers as Lt, Chief, or whatever rank they hold. After a couple shifts, one or two of the senior guys will take him under their wing and make sure he starts learning the important stuff.

There are definitely training officers and company officers that are responsible for training the new guy but this is the informal training.  This is where the nonsense get sifted out and the other firefighters teach you what you need to know to survive on the fireground and in the fire station.  This informal training doesn’t count for any certification or training hours but is certainly helps you become a better firefighter.

In another situation, firefighter new guy starts on shift.  On that shift there are a few senior guys and another firefighter that started 6 months before firefighter new guy.  Since this 6 month firefighter has been cleaning toilets and answering phones for a while, he thinks he automatically became a senior guy because someone else got hired.  This 6 month firefighter takes firefighter new guy under his wing and teaches him the couple things he has learned and also tells firefighter new guy a bunch of garbage.

Being on a department for 6 months does not make you an expert.  After 6 months, you really don’t know anything.  A 6 month firefighter should be seen with a mop, toilet brush or taking out the garbage.  Not heard instructing the new guy.

A bad situation is when firefighter new guy gets put on a shift with a bunch of guys that don’t believe in giving back.  They have been on the department a long time.  They know their job and they don’t think it’s their job to teach anybody anything.  There are other people that are responsible for training the new guy; let them earn their money.  These are the guys that spend most of the day on their cell phone setting up appointments for their side business.  I think it’s great when firefighters have a side business, but when you are on duty, do your part.

Don’t be the senior guy that wants all the benefits of being senior, but doesn’t want to fill the role as an informal teacher.  If you are lucky enough to be firefighter new guy, make sure you take your advice from the right people. Find the guy who will give you a good answer, not the guy that makes you feel stupid.  Find the guy that is respected by the rest of the department, someone that knows their job.  The informal learning system in the fire service if very successful.  Make sure you take your turn taking, and later in your career take your turn giving.

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