Maintaining the Work and Life Balance in the Fire Service
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Fire Engineering Newsletter
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The stage is set. In the audience are family members, friends and mentors patiently watching you on stage for your pinning ceremony. There are few milestones in life that are held in such high regard. The moment when you find the one you want to spend the rest of your life with and marry to become your significant other. The birth of a child is also a moment that you will truly treasure and never ever forget. And this day, when your dream career profession came true and you were pinned with the badge of a public servant.
The oath of a public servant is an oath of dedication to a lifetime of customer service. Remember this moment when you made the commitment to serving your community. The work of a public servant is never ending in the pursuit of service. At the end of every call is an opportunity to positively engage members of our community. There is no greater reward than a lifetime of service.
My challenge is for you to find an inspiring mentor in this profession. Allow yourself the opportunity to become his or her mentee. Develop into the firefighter and leader that you desire to become. Accept constructive criticism in stride and strive to become a better person daily. Respect their wisdom with grace and listen to their feedback with enthusiasm. Leaders lead by effectively developing future leaders from within their ranks.
Check out a roundup of recent posts from our featured contributors, including John Dixon on principles and morals, James Johnson on the importance of fire protection for suppression side members, P.J. Norwood on safety messaging, and more!
Last week we discussed two very important character traits; those traits were maintaining a strong work ethic and taking the proper initiative. This week we are going to cover two more equally important character traits that will help you achieve success throughout your fire service career:
The academy and the probationary period can be compared to a pressure cooker. You will be pushed beyond your physical and mental limits. However, having a positive attitude with the correct mindset will enable you to overcome this pressure.
There will be bad days. There will be days where you will be completely broken down. You will find out what you are made of and what your limits are during this process. It is important to know what your pain threshold is and also what you are capable of achieving under pressure. This is a profession where you will be under pressure your entire public safety career. It is essential to learn how to improvise, adapt and overcome in this stressful environment. Remember, this is the best job in the world. Every day we are on duty is an opportunity to help someone that needs us to mitigate his or her emergency.
There are two character traits that will help you stand out from the rest throughout the probationary period; those traits are maintaining a strong work ethic and taking the proper initiative. When it is time to go to work, you have to roll up your sleeves, because work is always the answer. Take initiative when something needs attention around the firehouse. Don’t walk past any job that you can handle, especially the empty toilet paper rolls or the overflowing kitchen garbage can. The moment that you identify something that needs to be taken care of, nominate yourself to accomplish these simple tasks.
While in the probationary period you must maintain a sense of urgency when you are performing work around the firehouse. When your officer or senior firefighter requests your presence, take initiative and move with a sense of purpose. There is a term called fire-ground pace in the fire service. A fire-ground pace is defined by moving with a sense of urgency. Start off probation by maintaining this sense of purpose and urgency in your movement. It is up to you to keep this fire-ground pace throughout the completion of the probationary period and beyond in your fire service career.
This is a profession where you have to make the commitment of 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. 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.
It takes a perfect balance of education, certifications, time-in-grade as well as experience, to become a seasoned firefighter. The task book is the initial phase of the learning process in order to go 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. The 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 initiative and train like your life depends on it because in this profession it does.
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 the 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 of 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 really 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 with 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 didn’t get any rest while on duty. I would drive home at the completion of my shift and literally sleep a full day once I got back home.
The reason why I am sharing all of these different shift assignments is 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 really fortunate one could block out two pay periods in a row if you were on a lightning siege or on a major campaign fire in Southern California. During this schedule, I met my soon to be bride and discovered that there was 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 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 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. The opportunity to meet one of your mentors, take a class from them at a national conference and the distinguished honor to drive them around Baltimore is an experience I will never forget.
At the Baltimore Fire Academy Training Center, I assisted with the Hands on Training (HOT) classes for the Firehouse Expo Conference. One of those classes was Burning Down the (Dolls) House with Fire Chief Ed Hartin. I had the opportunity to help with the construction of the dolls houses for this class at Firehouse Expo. This was an amazing opportunity to work hand in hand with one of the foremost experts in fire behavior. I had the opportunity while learning to build the dolls houses to ask questions regarding fire behavior and learning more than how to glue particleboards together.
Another Hands-on Training (HOT) class I had the opportunity to assist with was for Instructor Billy Leach from Big Rig Rescue and his class on Heavy Rescue: Overturns and Undersides at BA Products Co. in Columbia, Maryland. This was another amazing experience to observe Instructor Billy Leach in action with the complex heavy rescues scheduled for his class. The students in his class were challenged with the complex vehicle extrication scenarios and the full complement of heavy rescue tools provided to use during the class from neighboring fire agencies and vendors.
During the Hands on Training (HOT) classes for the Firehouse Expo conference, I assisted with the logistical ground support with Lion Apparel in delivering turnouts for the Firehouse Expo conference. This was also a very challenging experience for me as a volunteer because I was unfamiliar with the Baltimore area. I quickly learned my way around the local freeways and the rush hour traffic congestion. Lion Apparel provided a cleaning service to all the students attending the conference to clean their turnouts between the (HOT) class sessions to limit exposure to the harmful toxins that can cause cancer.
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 really 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 firefighter basic program over the course of those eight months. I consumed and digested every piece of information regarding the fire service. Every magazine on the coffee table at the firehouse, I must have read three times from cover to cover over the period of my first year. I even asked the senior firefighters at my station if I could 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 class.
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?