During my time as a firefighter, I have enjoyed the best and suffered the worst a firehouse has to offer. I have met some of my best friends and endured months with people I wouldn't trust out of my sight. With that in mind, I thought I would compile a list--an easy to follow guide for the dirtbag, to ensure that any good firefighters that bid your station or who are placed in your house will not want to stay. Just follow these 10 easy steps and you'll be sure to send those valuable employees packing and looking for greener pastures.
1. Don't eat dinner together. Crawl into the dark nooks of your firehouse and only come out to eat alone. Bring your own special vegan-soy-protein infused meals, separated into individual tupperware containers and stored in one huge collapsible cooler that takes up half of a refrigerator--and make sure to never share. Take turns in the kitchen, one at a time, cooking and preparing your own personal meal and eat by yourself while you scan your Facebook page dreaming of other places you'd rather be at that moment.
Eating dinner--breaking bread with your co-workers is sometimes the only chance busy houses have to sit and converse and to strengthen the bonds that good friends and firefighters have. Many of the problems I've had, have been put into perspective right there while we joked and laughed and took comfort in each others lives and stories.
Side note: If you have a special diet because you just have to get on that firefighter calender or you realized that gluten makes you weepy, then you can still sit and eat together. You can eat the part of the meal that is acceptable to you and supplement it with your own. The important part is that you make the effort and you see the value of a shared meal with some of the most important people in your life.
2. Do exactly what is expected of you and nothing more. Look and see who is doing less and who is getting more than you. See who drives the truck more than you. See who sits in the better seat at the dinner table. Make sure you show up right before shift change and whatever you do, make sure to never hold over.
These people are personal behavior accountants, bean-counting the actions and in-actions of all their peers. They can recall with absolute clarity what each person has or has not done. The problem with these types is they never put the magnifying glass on themselves.
Good firefighters understand that cameraderie comes when you are doing more than is asked, when you are helping your brother with the most mundane tasks and when you suffer, execute and surmount obstacles together. Trust comes after that.
3. Stop Training. Complain at drill time. Make excuses. Drag your feet. Whine and roll your eyes when you do the same drill again that you've been doing for the last fifteen years.
There will come a point in everyone's career when they get comfortable--when they feel like they've got a good handle on their job. And that is all well and good, but a good firefighter is always looking to be a little uncomfortable. He wants to be challenged. He wants to learn something new, even the smallest bit of information that may make his job a little easier and a little safer.
Training provides discovery. Training provides purpose. Training provides growth. You should always try to remain a student of the fire service. The day you finally graduate from the school of fire should be your first day of retirement.
4. No Recognition. No matter what happens. No matter what the new guy does, do not compliment him. Do not recognize the effort. He's just doing his job, right?
Verbal recognition is one of the only ways we as officers and we as peers can reward firefighters. We can't offer them monetary incentives or days off from work. We can't sweeten their retirement package, but we can tell them they did a great job on the nozzle, or that they blasted through that security door like lightning. A compliment from someone you respect satisfies more personal needs than we would care to admit.
In this line of work we often fail even when our efforts are outstanding. The house burns, the person dies, and there is no effort that could have changed the course of what happened. Sometimes the only way we can make it better is by recognizing the efforts of others (even in failure) and giving them hope that the outcome won't always be negative.
5. Micro-manage. One of my friends and one of the best drivers on our department was once told by his new chief not just to catch a hydrant, but 'how' to catch a hydrant at a fire. After the fire, the order that was given and the way it undermined his knowledge and his skill, bothered him so much that he gave up his bid a week later, citing that, 'if he is going to tell me how to do my job at a hydrant, then he can get someone without a brain to do it for him.' At the time, I thought the move was extreme, but later I realized that he knew that particular Chief would never trust his efforts and he would never feel happy with his work. That Chief has only needed two or three of these steps to lose almost all his good firefighters.
Good firefighters want to be given orders, but they also want to do it themselves. They don't want you to hold their hand while they do it. They want the opportunity to show you, 'I got this. Don't worry.'
6. Ignore Feedback. You're the senior man, right? You're the officer, right? If you wanted feedback from the junior guy, you'd ask for it.
When a firefighter notices something is wrong, don't just ignore him. When he tries to show you a different way to do something, don't just blow him off. If they want to try something new on an evolution or deployment try it out, let him discover what you may already know. Who knows, he might even be on to something and you may not only improve the evolution, but improve the cohesion of the crew. Sometimes the best you can do here is to provide a framework for them to try out their theory or suggestion. And if you do shoot down the idea, at least you took the time to consider it and try it out.
Side note: Regularly ignoring feedback is a great way to keep firefighters from speaking up on emergency scenes. If their opinions are not valued in the station, then why would they be considered during a time of danger? There are firefighters who will follow you knowingly into a bad situation because it's their only way of saying, 'he doesn't listen to me anyway, so I might as well let him f*** up.'
7. Be dishonest. Say one thing and do another. This is a fantastic way to lose a good firefighter. If you can't be trusted, there really isn't much more to say.
8. Do not support growth. Belittle your firefighter. Use training time to show how terrible they are when they make a mistake. Do not work to make them better. Don't let them act as officers and don't support outside education.
9. Sabotage the efforts of others. If someone takes on a project to improve the truck or the station, tell them 'they are all ate up,' or tell them to chill out, the department is not paying for that. Better yet, tell them they're wasting their time by going to off-duty training.
The best firefighters are supporters. They are team players. Remember you're not always going to be 1st in. You're are not always going to be the guy carrying the baby from the burning building. Every football team only has one quarterback, but it is the effort and the support of the whole squad that brings the victory. The great firefighters are often the unsung heroes, the never-mentioned guys that made the fire go so smoothly. Take pride in that.
If you drag your feet when you're third due. If you belittle the efforts of the young officer putting on his first drill, then you're well on your way to getting rid of that great firefighter.
10. Disrespect yourself, your crew and your firehouse. When you're off duty, act like an idiot. Be selfish. Make the same mistake over and over again. Do something stupid and when you come back to work be stubborn and arrogant. Whatever you do, don't apologize.
Humility seems to be one of the most difficult things for a firefighter to cultivate. Maybe because we have to be confident to do what we do, but eating a slice of humble pie after your blow-up the shift before earns a lot more respect than pretending it didn't happen at all.