We started out being fireman, we put out fires and that was about all we did. Since those days, EMS has snuck in the door and now we spend more time running ambulance calls and not so much time putting out fires. EMS seemed to be a logical fit in the fire station. We are there 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and that is also what was needed to cover ambulance calls. Fires were going down and in one way or another, we all got involved in some EMS.
Today the fire service is full of specialty teams. We added Haz Mat, then came high angle rescue, trench rescue, and teams as specific as swift water rescue. Our department actually created a mine rescue team since there was a limestone mine coming to town, and they bought us all the equipment. We knew zero about mine rescue but we were there so we jumped, (or were pushed) into the mine rescue business. These things all seem to fit in the fire service but how do we manage all these specialties?
Specialties are managed by departments in a lot of different ways. Most departments have specialty teams that are made up of firefighters that have certifications and training in those specific areas. Rope rescue, trench rescue, and confined space rescue are often combined under the technical rescue category. In smaller departments, there may be a team made up of members from neighboring towns which is a good way to spread the cost.
Participation in these teams can be mandatory, or voluntary. Some guys get involved in all of them and some say they are fireman, not their job to hang on ropes. There are different motivations for joining these teams. It may be the bonus or overtime involved, you might want to get involved so you have a better chance of promotion, or maybe you really like the challenge of doing something special.
I have had periods in my career that I belonged to none of these teams, and also times that I was involved in just about everything available. I did get a few bucks extra, but it also involved a lot of off duty training with regional response teams. I’m not really sure what my motivation was for getting involved in specialty teams, but it did not help me get promoted.
A lot of new firefighters get involved in everything possible. I don’t like the idea of new firefighters going to specialty team training, they need to learn the basics of firefighting before they can learn the specialties. New firefighters do need familiarization in all these specialties, but focus on learning to be a firefighter first.
When you feel confident in all areas of firefighting, I suggest finding ONE thing to specialize in. Invest all your extra time and effort into one specific area and be the best at whatever that is. If you are interested in rope rescue, learn everything possible about rope rescue, and be the absolute best on your department and in your area at rope rescue. If you aren’t interested in a specialty team pick, an area of firefighting like hydraulics or ladders and learn it all. Learn it so well that if there is any question on that subject in your area, you are the one they look for.
Don’t just be a guy in the crowd, be the best at something. You don’t need to specialize in everything, just be the best at something.
By John Morse
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