There is a life cycle for a firefighter. Some people say as a child, I want to be a firefighter when I grow up and they do. Some like me fall into it and now a days there is a new type of firefighter, the well educated-advanced-degree-holding-uncommitted-I-need-a-job-for-now kind.
The old model of a career minded firefighter was just that, a career, a job to do for 25 to 30 years and then retire, get a gold badge and hang up the uniform. That is what I did and that is what many before me did. I may have fallen in to the profession but once there I loved it most of the time.
As a recruit or new guy, you go through a cycle. For a period of time you are the low man on the pole so to speak. Your life consists of listening more than you speak, doing every grunt job nobody else does like cleaning the bathroom and you have to earn your way in.
Nobody before you was handed anything and guess what? Nobody is going to hand you anything now. It is the custom, you are an unknown quantity, we know you went through the academy and learned all the basic skills but guess what new guy? We don’t do it that way, we do it our way and we have to retrain you.
I had a FNG, read F***ing new guy, that told me I was taking a plug wrong during a drill, I let it go until we got back to the station and then asked him to explain the ways of my error.
“Well the way we learned it in the academy, was that the hose must always wrap around the fire hydrant clockwise, that way if it comes loss it will fly in a direction away from you.” Said the FNG.
“Sweet, gosh thanks for telling me that I could have really hurt myself or someone else, huh?” I said.
“I guess. That is why we were taught that way.” He said.
“Let me throw a little wrinkle on that idea. What if the plug is up against a fence, a road sing, or on the side of an over grown hill? What if it is buried in a fitzer bush or a huge cactus or a car is parked there in your way, then what kid? You not gonna get us water, let us burn?” I asked.
“I uh—- I guess I’d think of something else.” He stammered.
“But that would be breaking the rules you learned in the academy. What if your training officer found out? You’d be in deep shit then, wouldn’t you?” I kind of barked.
“I—- don’t know how to answer that sir.” He said.
“Okay let’s get some stuff clear. First don’t call me sir, that is what you call the Lou not me. Second I’m glad you learned all this stuff in the academy, are you in the academy now?” I asked.
“No si—- firefighter Casey.” He said.
“Just Tim will do, and right, you aren’t in the academy any more, you’re in the house, the Hero House, and you ain’t no hero yet either. So we have a great opportunity today, to get you a fresh start kid, you get to unlearn all that crap they stuffed in your head out there, okay?” I asked. He really had no idea what to say at this point, he just stood there flat footed.
“Okay?” I said.
“Yes—–Tim, okay.” He said.
“Good, now whenever it crosses your pea-brain to correct my technique during a drill or at a real fire, resist that urge, I mean really resist it, with all your might and I don’t care if a freaking chimney is about to fall on my ass, keep your mouth shut kid. Are we clear on this?” I said.
“Yes—— Tim.” He said.
“Yes Tim what?” I asked.
“Yes—- sir—-Tim I mean, I understand.” He said.
“Understand what?” I asked.
“I understand I should let stuff fall on you.” He said.
“No! Look kid I like you, kind of. I am asking you to watch the senior guys around you, see how they do stuff and don’t compare what we do out here to what you learned out of the books, okay? Just watch and learn if you have a question wait for the right time to ask it.” I said. He looked even more lost now.
“What?” I asked.
“When is the right time?” he asked.
“When we aren’t working on it, when we get back to the house, when the fire is out, or when we are on route to quarters, that’s when you ask, oh, and don’t ask me either.” I said. He went blank again. I just waited for him to process his question.
“Then who should I ask——Tim?” he asked.
“Your freaking officer kid, I’m not your boss, I’m not the guy doing your evals, he is. Ask him, you see it gives him something to write down about you? They are looking for you to have questions; they want to write positive stuff about you. But you have to ask questions about stuff, so they think you are on the ball. See?” I said.
“Yes I see Tim.” He said.
“Good now don’t let this happen again.” I walked away.
That is how it went with new guys. We had to retrain them in the field to keep them safe. Book knowledge is a great place to start as it is on any new job. The difference with we of the brotherhood, is that a mistake on the fire ground can not only kill the new guy, it can take a lot of people out quickly.
I’m going to do a series of posts here about on the life cycle of firefighters, so I’m not leaving you hanging here, I’ll tell you more in the days to come. So check back soon.