You have survived the first week as a probationary firefighter in the best career in the world. You might need to pinch yourself because you possibly feel like you just won the lottery. The first week undoubtedly went by so fast, that it feels like a blur and you are still in the process of trying to find out how you will “fit-in” to the firehouse culture. The last article covered the roles, responsibilities, and duties of being a probationary firefighter. This article is going to focus on the character traits that are necessary to pass the probationary period and these traits will also make a major contribution in building important relationships in the firehouse.
It is very important to have your own unique morals, values, and ethics prior to gaining entry into the fire service. These traits are the reference point for anyone seeking a career in this field. It is those same traits that you will need to harness and rely upon while leading throughout probation. Always do the right thing. Do not participate in any activity that is illegal, immoral or unethical on or off duty in your fire service career - period. The impact of violating these values will be catastrophic for your fire service career.
The probationary period allows you the opportunity to display your own personal character traits. It is during this time that you will want to listen more than you speak. Let your actions speak for themselves around the firehouse. Everything you touch is an opportunity for you to leave your own unique set of fingerprints. Actions speak louder than words. Keep your head down and your nose to the grindstone while you earn this position. Be effective and efficient with your time while on duty. With every action is an opportunity for you to make an investment into the department and your fire service career. Always remember you were hired as a public servant. Accept this title with enthusiasm and humility.
From our first day in the fire service, we have the opportunity to be a leader and lead throughout probation and well beyond, until long after our retirement. This article is not the perfect recipe or golden ticket to pass probation. It takes more than a list of rules to be successful in passing probation. Ultimately, the responsibility of passing the probationary period rests firmly on the probationary firefighter's shoulders.
On our first day, as we embark upon this prized career in the fire service, it is necessary to show up and arrive early to the fire station. Early is comprised of at least 60 minutes prior to the start of our shift. Several tasks are essential and required to be completed before we can officially start the day on “Big Red” in the Jumpseat. Don’t be late in this profession! You will be left behind at the station if you are late, and more importantly, you don’t get a 2nd chance for a 1st impression!
Someone has to raise the American flag. This is an opportunity for the probationary firefighter to take responsibility for raising Old Glory for the community we have the honor to serve. It takes leadership from the probationary firefighter to raise the flag. No one is going to issue this order because this is our responsibility. It is also our responsibility to lower the flag and properly fold the flag in the evening. Learn proper flag etiquette and take leadership in learning how to honor the American flag.
In my fire service career, I have worked many different shift schedules. When I first started as a volunteer, I signed up for 24-hour shifts on a Kelly Schedule as a paid reserve. About a year later, I received the opportunity to be a wildland firefighter and transitioned to the 72-hour shift schedule. As a wildland firefighter, I soon discovered what strike team deployments were, which involved chasing campaign fires all over the State of California. The next shift assignment I worked was a little different, and it was a rotating 12-hour schedule between day-night shifts. My body never knew what time it was, and I learned that I could sleep just about anytime during the day.
My last shift assignment was more common, called the 48/96 schedule, working two straight days in a row. This assignment is known as the “commuter schedule,” and I was indeed a commuter for three years. My residence was three hours one way from my duty station, and this commute made it extremely difficult working in a very busy system. On this schedule, I drove my personal vehicle three hours to work, and I was driving the fire engine for a total of 24-48 hours at work. There were some nights where you were known as the “Sleepless Knights,” and you didn’t get any rest while on duty. I would drive home after my shift and sleep a full day once I got back home.
I am sharing all of these different shift assignments to paint a picture of all the various work schedules one could have in their Fire Service career. In my earlier years as a seasonal wildland firefighter, I would work a whole 28 days in a pay period. This was known as “Blocking out,” a pay period. If you were fortunate, one could block out two pay periods in a row if you were on a lightning siege or a significant campaign fire in Southern California. I met my soon-to-be bride during this schedule and discovered more to life than just being a firefighter.
Over the last seven years I have been married to my bride, I have struggled with maintaining the work-life balance for various reasons. The demands of a public servant are extreme with overtime, shift trades, mandatory training, off-duty community events, union meetings, and of course, vacation - sick coverage. It is extremely easy to pour yourself into the demanding role of a public servant in the fire service. It is also very easy to let the fire life consume you!
You never know what to expect when you sign up to be a volunteer. I had the opportunity to serve as an Ambassador for the Firehouse Expo 2015 Conference in Baltimore, Maryland. I was very fortunate to assist with setting up the inaugural Legends and Icons Event for the Firehouse Hall of Fame. This opportunity was one of the most memorable volunteer experiences in my fire service career.
I had the opportunity to be a chauffeur for the 2015 Firehouse Hall of Fame inductee Chief Alan V. Brunacini, his family, and distinguished guests. Chief Brunacini is one of my valued mentors and someone that has inspired me throughout my fire service career. When I first started in the fire service, I read his book titled Essentials of Fire Department Customer Service from cover to cover. This book was one of the first books I purchased and studied when I became a firefighter in December of 2005. I had the opportunity to take classes from Chief Brunacini at the 2015 Firehouse World Conference in San Diego, California. When you attend a National conference, you have the chance to meet one of your mentors, take a class from them, and the distinguished honor to drive them around Baltimore.
It has been a little over a year since my last blog article. I have faced some challenges this past year and I welcome this opportunity to share how I overcame those hurdles. It is in my own personal opinion; that it is from those trials that is when we truly learn who we are. The motto of the fire service is to improvise, adapt and overcome. However, this last year has taught me a new motto: faith, family, friends and the fire service.
When I think about faith, a bible verse comes to mind. “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1 New International Version). In my life, I have experienced some near death incidents and for me, it has always been my faith that has pulled me through those experiences. Sometimes we have to take a leap of faith and this past year has been a giant leap of faith for my family. It has strengthened my understanding of faith, that I which now know God is in control and He has an ultimate plan.
Family means everything to me. This past year, I had to put my career in the fire service on hold in order to take care of an immediate family member. I have sacrificed a great deal in the last ten years to pursue my public safety career. The fire service families reading this blog article can appreciate and understand some of those sacrifices. However, I was not going to sacrifice my family for my dream career position in the fire service.
I received a dream opportunity to work for a department that I first applied for in 2009. It took seven long years for my number to be called and for my dream position in the fire service to come true. Unfortunately, my dream was unable to come true due to some events out of my control. My family is my utmost first priority. I made a vow through my faith to take care of my family first.
Prior to the pursuit of my dream career position in the fire service, my original dream was representing the United States as an Olympic Hopeful for the sport of Greco-Roman wrestling. I spent the majority of my childhood and early adult life preparing for the opportunity to be a member of Team USA Wrestling. I started my athletic career in the dojo studying the martial sciences. At the early age of six, I was enrolled in my local martial arts academy studying the martial science of Judo and Jujitsu.
My sensei instilled in me the importance of hard work and discipline from a very early age. I respected the martial sciences and the concept of mastering the craft. I was instructed in both English and Japanese. I was required to know the pronunciation and the spelling of every technique in both English and Japanese prior to being award the promotion of each belt. Nothing was awarded or given without hard work through preparation and mastery of the martial sciences.
I continued in athletics while in middle school and high school. While in middle school, I discovered the correlation of the martial sciences with the sport of folkstyle wrestling. I received the opportunity to travel with the Junior National Team from California to the location of the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia, two weeks prior to the opening ceremonies of the Olympics. Our team from California was comprised of several soon to be Junior World Champions in the sport of Wrestling. In fact, several years later in our collegiate years, several of us became NCAA National Champions, Olympic Medalists and Ultimate Fighting Championship stars.
My first professional Greco-Roman match as an Olympic Hopeful was in 1999 at the USA Wrestling National Championships in Las Vegas, Nevada. As fate would have it, I drew the #1 seeded Greco-Roman wrestler in the Country and one of the top wrestlers at my weight class in the world. For the next several years participating at the US Nationals in Las Vegas, Nevada, I would draw the top #1 or #2 wrestler at my weight class each year in 2001, 2002 and 2003. In order to be the best at any competitive sport, you have to compete with the best athletes in the world.
Over the years I have volunteered for various organizations. When I first started my career in the fire service, I began as a volunteer and, this original experience taught me the importance of volunteerism. One of the most rewarding volunteer experiences is when I traveled to Port-au-Prince, Haiti after the devastating earthquake in 2010. I will forever remember this humbling experience.
I had the unique opportunity to deploy to Haiti with a team of doctors, nurses, and firefighters from all over the world. I spent ten days on the ground in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, assisting our team of healthcare professionals with the logistical needs of setting up mobile care clinics. Some of the remote locations of the mobile care clinics were orphanages and schools. Due to the devastation from the earthquake our team of firefighters had to carry all of the items needed for our team to conduct these clinics.
I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to teach at some of the schools regarding earthquake safety. During these teaching sessions, I stressed the importance of having an emergency plan. Having a safe location for everyone to assemble at during an emergency. These teaching sessions wouldn’t be possible if it weren’t for the excellent translators that were available to translate for our team. Some of these translators would walk ten miles per day for the opportunity to translate for our team.
I will never forget the day I signed up to be a volunteer firefighter for my community. In 2005, I can recall watching the devastation on TV from the natural disaster Hurricane Katrina and Rita in the Gulf Region of the United States. I felt like I needed to help in some form or fashion; I wanted to do something. At the time, in my local area of California, I visited my local volunteer fire station and signed up to become a volunteer firefighter. I didn't know that I would soon be embarking on my future career in the Fire Service.
I attended training on Wednesday evenings and weekends for eight months at the firehouse. I graduated from my department's firefighter basics program and became an official probationary firefighter. I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of every training class in the basic firefighter program over those eight months. I consumed and digested every piece of information regarding the fire service. I read every magazine on the coffee table at the firehouse at least three times from cover to cover over my first year. I even asked the senior firefighters at my station to take home the old magazines to glean the valuable information they contained. I became a student of the fire service. Over the next year following the department-sponsored training program, I attended various emergency medical and fire service-related training classes.
I will never forget my first call some ten years ago as a volunteer firefighter. After that first call, I realized that I wanted to do this for the rest of my career. I approached the crossroads of my life, and I had to make an important decision. I wanted to become a public servant. I wanted to help my community. In December of 2006, I served my first paid shift as a reserve firefighter. And in my first year, I signed up for a total of 96 - 24-hour shifts at the firehouse, in addition to my regular full-time day job position.
Why should you become a public servant? Do you feel the desire to help your fellow neighbor in their time of need? Have you ever had a bad day and needed to call 911 for help? I am sure everyone reading this article has requested the aid of a public safety servant. I have always been thankful for the Good Samaritan that has assisted my family members in those difficult times. Are you interested in pursuing a career in the fire service? If so, stop by your local firehouse and ask your local firefighters in your community, "why they became a public safety servant?" I am positive they would be more than willing to help you with any questions you might have.
Do you embrace change or do you resist it? Do you approach a conversation with an open mind or do you approach the discussion with a closed mind? Are you willing to accept technological advances or discredit them? Are you willing to pull up a chair at the table and join the conversation?
I am a humble public servant. My ultimate goal and purpose, in my position in the fire service, is to serve the public. Our customers expect a highly competent professional that will arrive in an effective and efficient manner to mitigate their emergency. Are you willing to be a change magnet?
The fire service is rapidly approaching the age of discovery in the realm of scientific information. This scientific data is at the forefront of many conversations and discussions around the firehouse kitchen table. The application of this scientific data is very difficult to apply, digest and even comprehend. Are you willing to embrace this information?
In this age of discovery, this scientific information is highlighting information that has already been discovered in the past. However, in this current age of information, several are reconsidering this preexisting information. This age of technology is integrated with almost every aspect of the society of today. For example, smartphones, smart televisions and now even smart refrigerators. You can see this advancement of technology by attending national fire/ems conferences and walking the exposition floor. Are you willing to attend these conferences and become familiar with the advancement of this technology in the fire service?