The fire service is a trade that is chock full of fascinating, unusual, and compelling types of work that can keep just about anyone occupied and engaged into it. From firefighting, extrication, heavy rescue, rope rescue, dive rescue, water rescue, confined space, hazardous materials, public safety education, inspections/pre-planning, the list goes on as to what there is. Furthermore we can drill down each one of those into a long list of sub classifications, tasks, and roles that would fill all the whiteboards around your training room. The possibilities are endless for training, and certainly can keep your firehouse busy with ideas for drill night from now through the end of your career.
Too often however, with all these exciting topics we are cranking our newest young men and women through schools and jamming information down their throats and letting them take on the world. As fast as they can finish one class, they are hopping into the next without the ability to fully apply or grasp the knowledge that they have just learned and hone those skills, grow those skills, and be the best at what they do. We train them to be a firefighter and then before they can fully apply and be good at the tasks required of them they move right on. They as firefighters, and more often their officers are failing to make sure that they have a solid base as a line firefighter and fully “get it” before we let them power forward to specializations. We are creating a jack-of-all-trades, but a master of none.
A question I hear often with newer firefighters that I run across is, “what should I do next?” I ask them, “what do you mean next,” to which they answer (in a roundabout way, “I want to get on XYZ Fire Department and be a firefighterparamedicroperanglingbadassheavyrescuingglowworm…” the list goes on as they can hardly focus and keep still. Now I will never fault anyone for their excitement about the path we take as firefighters, because it can be a very exciting and enjoyable calling. That’s awesome, bottle up some of that excess energy and save it for the rough day when you’re going on nothing but fumes and settle down for a moment. We all can probably remember what its like to be that new person, that one who just finished their 36, their FFI, or their FFII and can spout textbook, NFPA, and how our instructors from ABC Fire Department do it everyday. We were invincible, unstoppable, and because we just finished the latest fire academy class we are ready to take it all on and do so with a passion that can’t be reckoned with.
I got probably one of the best pieces of advice from my first EMS partner, Jane, years ago that I still hold onto and it is valid not only for the fire service. I remember just finishing up a difficult run and working it with her while another firefighter drove us in. It looked as if a tornado went through the box and each of us looked like we had just finished running a race. I remember being that firefighter that just finished up EMT-Basic school and asking what should I do next, that run had my adrenaline pumping, I was amped up, full of energy, and I loved doing what I just experienced. She told me that the best thing that I can do is, “learn to be the best basic there is, and then look at advancing.” I thought understood some of what she meant by that statement, but it wasn’t until years later when I fully appreciated it. I saw it in the younger members that would finish their FFII card, run off to Paramedic School and to every school they could find in the first three years, but to be honest struggled for quite some time at very basic roles and tasks. They had certificates that proved they could pass the tests, but they didn’t have the time and put in the effort to work on the skills at being good before trying to move on to something else.
By now, maybe you’re thinking I am saying don’t train, training is bad, and nothing could be further from the truth. By all means I encourage training, but make sure that you have a solid base, understanding, and can act when needed. Learn your job and be a great firefighter before you start worrying about specialization. Know your firehouse, be proficient with your trucks, equipment, your knowledge of first due, the fire ground roles, and be that solid firefighter that can be given a task without hesitation. Stretch lines until you can’t just do it, but until you can do it well. Move water and making working that pump look like you’re playing a beautiful hymn while standing at the organ. The list could go on and on, but master them, and then look to build your list of accomplishments and skills.
There is a reason that many departments require a certain amount of time at a position before moving around to a special unit or looking at specialization. Its an excellent thing to have goals that you desire to be a heavy rescue tech or a rescue diver, keep those goals and work toward them, but work first on being that great firefighter and master it.
Train hard and do work.