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Leading Throughout Probation and Beyond in the Fire Service: Part 3

Leading Throughout Probation and Beyond in the Fire Service: Part 3

This is a profession where you have to make the commitment to becoming a lifelong learner. The fire academy is over and now you have found yourself in the Jumpseat. Congratulations, you have arrived; however, the learning doesn't stop at the completion of the recruit academy! The learning has just begun with the start of the probationary period. The main difference between the academy and the job is that you now have to distance yourself from the textbooks. The classroom is extremely important and now you have to take what you learned within those four walls and apply it to the street.

You will be issued a stack of textbooks, a task book sign-off binder and a punch list of everything that you have to complete by the end of the probationary period. This is the time to lead throughout probation and learn time management, among many other things. In this profession, it is impossible to learn too much. Therefore, always keep the mindset of being a student of the fire service. The moment that you think you have learned everything about this profession, you will be humbled with an important lesson on humility.

Becoming a seasoned firefighter takes a perfect balance of education, certifications, time-in-grade and experience. The task book is the initial phase of the learning process from a recruit firefighter to an entry-level firefighter and beyond. It takes many years to receive the experience needed to be successful in this profession. Learning never ends if you want to be the best of the best. Be humble; keep your nose in the textbooks and your physical presence on the training grounds. The only way to successfully pass the probationary period is to learn about the job. This is the opportunity to ask questions from the instructor cadre. Take the initiative and train like your life depends on it because in this profession, it does.

Take charge of your own learning. No one will learn for you or teach you what he or she knows or has experienced. Hold yourself accountable and follow the course of the recruit task book. There will be deadlines that must be completed on a timely basis. Learn to prioritize and execute accordingly. You are in control of your own destiny. Don't expect to have a senior member or an officer sign you off or "pencil whip" the task book process. Don't settle for the easy or mediocre way of completing the task book. Be a professional and strive to do the best in every aspect of this profession!

You're a shell of the books you read, the podcasts you listen to, the fire service-related magazines you thumb through and the experiences you hear from the senior members of the profession. Take the time to absorb it all in and keep the positive attitude of a student. There are a lot of training seminars and conferences that one can attend in this profession. The main priority right now is the recruit task book. There will be plenty of time to attend additional training at the completion of probation. The training doesn't stop when you get the badge. The learning continues throughout every fire and incident you mitigate in this profession. The training seminars will be there to attend throughout the rest of your career. In my own opinion, it is essential to attend these training conferences on a consistent basis throughout your entire career.

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Leading Throughout Probation and Beyond in the Fire Service: Part 2

Leading Throughout Probation and Beyond in the Fire Service: Part 2

You have survived the first week as a probationary firefighter in the best career in the world. However, 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. Previously in this article, we covered the roles, responsibilities and duties of being a probationary firefighter. We will now focus on the character traits necessary to pass the probationary period, which will also contribute to building meaningful relationships in the firehouse.

It is imperative to have your own unique morals, values and ethics before entering 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 illegal, immoral, or unethical activity 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. 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.

On your first day, you probably learned where to park your vehicle and your officer gave you instructions on how to access the firehouse. That first day, you probably learned where all the cleaning supplies were located and you started the process of learning the layout of the firehouse. At times it can be overwhelming as you learn your place in the firehouse. At these times, you need to pace yourself and absorb all the information like a sponge. Carry a notebook with you at all times and keep detailed notes of important information regarding where everything is located.

Over the last week and while on probation, you probably haven't had the opportunity to sit down. As a probationary firefighter, you need to learn what is acceptable during this time while you are gaining entry into this prized profession.  Most departments don't allow their probationary members to have a seat in the firehouse, with the exception of mealtime and/or classroom training time. Again, this brings up the notion of earning your seat in the firehouse. In my humble opinion, you earn your seat every day in this profession. I would ask your senior Firefighter and/or officer if there is an acceptable place for you to sit while not performing the tasks related to your probation. Ask for direction and accept the humility that this seat is something that is earned throughout your career. Every member has an assigned seat in the day room and also at the kitchen table.  Learn where all the members prefer to sit on your shift. Make sure and wait until all members are seated in their assigned seating arrangements. Probationary firefighters always are the last ones to sit down. You have to know your place in the firehouse culture; that place is always first to do work and last to sit down. When the meal is finished, don't be in such a rush to jump up and start cleaning the table. Try to find the right time to be the first up, without disrupting the nightly traditions, as many crews enjoy sitting around the table for a while before cleaning up, and you are in a rush to get the kitchen cleaned may actually annoy them and work against you.

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Leading Throughout Probation and Beyond in the Fire Service

Leading Throughout Probation and Beyond in the Fire Service

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 at the fire station. Early is comprised of at least 60 minutes before the start of our shift. Several tasks are essential and required to be completed before officially starting 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.

The probationary Firefighter must perform the next task of thoroughly checking their department-issued personal protective equipment (PPE). No one is going to check our gear for us in this profession. This is our responsibility to make sure our gear is in order and that we have all the required important pieces of our safety gear ensemble. Preparation is just one of the key ingredients to the recipe required for successfully passing probation. Thoroughly check all the components of our SCBA, including an air cylinder, mask and the batteries needed for operation. Also, check the flashlights and make sure the batteries are in proper working order. Make sure to have at least two working flashlights at all times. Thoroughly checking our safety gear and equipment on "Big Red" demonstrates leadership from the probationary firefighter level. As probationary Firefighters, it is our responsibility to ensure all Firefighter-related tools are accounted for and in working order on the apparatus.

Every fire station in the fire service needs fuel and that fuel is coffee. The task of making coffee falls on the probationary Firefighter. The probationary Firefighter is the barista of the fire station and this is an opportunity to take pride in making the best coffee for your co-workers. Learn where all the coffee-making supplies are located in the fire station. It is our responsibility to make sure these items are accounted for and never run out of stock. As a probationary firefighter, it is necessary to know the difference between coffee and tea. Learn the recipe for coffee; make sure it is always hot and in constant supply. Also, realize that not everyone may drink coffee; don't insult someone who doesn't drink coffee by asking him or her if they would like a cup. More importantly, if you want to really get to know your co-workers, learn their preferences, so you can be the best teammate you can be.

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Maintaining the Work and Life Balance

Maintaining-the-Work-and-Life-Balance Cover Photo Courtesy: California Fire Foundation

In my fire service career, I have worked many different shift schedules. When I 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 on 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. Unfortunately, it is also very easy to let the fire life consume you!

Then life happens with starting a family, and you begin settling down with children. This is when life and its responsibilities sink in. Then you start struggling with this whole work-life balance concept. You want to be at home with your family, and you also want to be a dedicated public servant at the same time. I almost felt like I was living two different lives. One of those lives was at my home residence with my family, and the other life was at the firehouse with my work family.

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Faith, Family, Friends and the Fire Service


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.

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What is a tactical athlete?


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.

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Why I Became a Public Safety Servant

Why I Became a Public Safety Servant

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.

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Are you a Change Magnet?

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?

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