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.
The next task that the probationary firefighter must perform is 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 required batteries 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. By thoroughly checking our safety gear and equipment on “Big Red,” this demonstrates leadership from the probationary firefighter level. As a probationary firefighter, it is our responsibility to make sure all firefighter related tools are accounted for and are 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.
The probationary firefighter is in charge of the sink. Always be in the sink and take pride in washing every dish. Learn where everything is located in the kitchen. Accept the title of the firehouse kitchen Incident Commander and take pride in maintaining a clean kitchen. Be the first one to the sink and be the last one to leave the sink. The probationary firefighter is also in charge of the dishwasher. It is our responsibility to unload the dishwasher in the morning and also running the dishwasher in the evening. As time permits, be in the kitchen performing as the sous-chef for the cook and start learning recipes to make throughout the probationary period. The best way to a firefighters heart is through their stomachs.
There is no task below the probationary firefighter in the firehouse. Take pride in performing the dirtiest job in the firehouse. The bathrooms are our responsibility. They need to be fully stocked in the morning and throughout the entire shift. The bathrooms need to be clean and the latrines need to sparkle. Lead throughout the probationary period by starting with the important task of cleaning the bathrooms. Learn where all the cleaning supplies are located and always keep a constant supply of elbow grease on hand. Purchase a pumice stone for the fire station and take ownership of each latrine. Learn how to properly detail every fixture in the bathroom.
The probationary firefighter can demonstrate leadership by performing these tasks mentioned in this article. Take pride in arriving early, raising the flag, checking our gear, making coffee, performing as the kitchen Incident Commander and cleaning the bathrooms. You have to earn the seat on “Big Red” and the position of firefighter in the firehouse. Leading through these tasks will be an opportunity to develop the leadership skills required to be successful in the fire service. Always remember this is where all the probationary firefighters start and this is the beginning of the process of earning the title of Firefighter!
Cover Photo: Author
Chris Baker, has over thirteen years of experience in volunteer, combination, and career, fire departments in California. He holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Anthropology and Associates of Science Degree in Fire Service Command, Company Officer. Chris is a California State Fire Training certified Fire Officer, Driver-Operator, Fire Instructor, and Lead Firefighter I Certification Evaluator. He has over nine years of teaching experience as an Adjunct Instructor in the EMS discipline, Firefighter 1 Academy Instructor, and Fire Science Instructor in the California Community Colleges System. Chris is a member of the California Fire Technology Directors’ Association and the California Training Officers Association. He served as a volunteer Peer Reviewer on the FY 2017 Staffing for Adequate Fire & Emergency Response Grants (SAFER) for both hiring and recruitment/retention. Chris also served as a Peer Reviewer on the FY 2017 Assistance to Firefighters Grants (AFG) and the FY 2018 Assistance to Firefighters Grants (AFG). He is a Volunteer Advocate Regional Manager, Region IX (CA, NV, AZ, HI) for the Everyone Goes Home Program through the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation. Chris also serves as a volunteer member of the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) Safety, Health and Survival Section serving in their staging area. He was a member of the 2018 and 2019 Safety Stand Down committees. Chris is a member of the Board of Directors and Public Information Officer (PIO) for the National Fire Heritage Center located in Emmitsburg, Maryland. He is a National Fire Service Instructor teaching at notable fire conferences across the country including the Fire Department Instructors Conference (FDIC) International. Chris is the co-host of the Fire Engineering: The Future Firefighter Podcast, and he writes blog articles published through Firefighter Nation and the Fire Engineering Training Community on mentoring the future generations of the fire service.