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.
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. It is at these times that 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 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.
The probationary firefighter is similar to a brand new fire axe. This tool is in preen brand new condition and has a razor sharp edge. Throughout your probationary period, you are comparable to this brand new fire axe. You have to always keep the edge sharp and you have to keep this tool in a parade ready shape. Don’t get too comfortable while on probation. You have to keep sharpening your edge while on probation and throughout your career in the fire service. Any downtime that you might have is an opportunity for you to sharpen your skills as a probationary firefighter.
Most departments issue firefighting tools to their probationary members to detail and make improvements during their probationary period. Some of these items look like they have survived a five-alarm fire. As a probationary firefighter, you need to hold yourself accountable to work on these items throughout your probationary period up to graduation. No one is going to remind you to work on this very important project. You have to hold yourself accountable and take personal leadership of this very important task. This work of art that you have meticulously poured all of your “free- time” into is returned to your department at graduation for the ultimate prize, the firefighter’s badge.
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.