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  • Marc Aloan

Junior vs. Senior: A Symbiotic Relationship


(Photo: Fandom)

What I am about to say may come as a surprise to anyone who has followed me for a while, but I am slowly beginning to understand how and why people become disengaged as their careers wind down. I believe most of the situations that rob our members of their passion are 100% self-inflicted. I think we have made the rules a higher priority than the mission, overly complicating simple tasks and robbing our cultures of enthusiasm in the process. I see the toll of the war between tradition and modernization, a battle that has created mismanagement, bureaucracy, and egos that stoke self-importance on both sides while simultaneously robbing our motivation. Unfortunately, I know the REALITY of the job is often not what we preach, and I feel the frustration of those failing to feel fulfilled by our craft despite doing everything they have been taught will keep their flame burning. As a result, I think I finally comprehend the decision of once passionate members to actively withdraw or move on is a culmination of failures and disappointments at the crew, department, and fire service levels, not some sort of selfish knee jerk reaction to a single negative experience…


While it may seem kind of odd, the thoughts above were really driven home from sharing brotherhood and work this past weekend, not an adverse reaction from an unfavorable experience. I attended my first fire conference in over a year, my first conference as a student in far too long. I was reminded of how important it is to continue to perform the skills of our craft regardless of rank or position. I was also reminded that while it is critical that we labor together, teamwork is equally fueled by the social aspects of the job, many of which we are getting away from today. It was refreshing to be surrounded by people who live for this job rather than use this job to live, something we tend to forget in the distractions of the daily grind. I felt truly connected with the job as I shared tips, methods, and sweat with passionate men and women of all ranks and experience levels, many of whom I haven’t seen in a long time. Sadly, most of these things are missing in fire departments across the country which is why we are seeing many brothers and sisters feel the need to choose between their calling and their sanity…


The biggest thing I took from my time in the North Florida sun was how much we undervalue and underestimate our junior members once we get a little time under our belt. Specifically, we overlook how important they are to maintaining the motivation and proficiency of the senior members. You see, there were at least two probationary members from various departments in just about every group of students I came across last weekend. Their thirst for knowledge, advice, and guidance nearly unquenchable. They were eager, curious, engaged, receptive, and thankfully unshy in expressing it. It was evident they came to work as they asked questions, put in reps, and most importantly sought knowledge from the senior firefighters and instructors alike. Time on the job wasn’t relevant in this environment as everyone in attendance shared their thoughts, worked the problem, and learned from each other. I watched group after group of members that couldn’t have been further away in time and experience complement each other as they carried out evolutions. I witnessed young firefighters motivate old firefighters and vice versa. It is amazing what can happen when nobody fears judgement from failure, something we should all be trying to replicate in our firehouses every day. Watching these men and women elevate each other was extremely empowering and a stark reminder that this romance we have with “leadership” in the fire service is failing to address the fact that we have plenty of people ready and willing to follow, we just don’t always give them the chance.


(Photo: SF Clark)

During my time spent working alongside both tenured members seeking to polish their skills and new firefighters building their foundations, I realized that the top and bottom of our rosters have a symbiotic relationship; the senior members ensure the junior members grow old and the junior members remind the senior members to stay young. As we start to put more years behind us than in front of us, we must remain engaged to ensure we are providing the correct guidance to the next generation. Time and position may not require us to physically complete certain skills or tasks on a regular basis, but overseeing and teaching how to perform them demands we still be able to do so. This is where humility on both sides is important. Senior members must learn to not only share their knowledge but be open to learning from those who may have less experience, but plenty to bring to the table. Junior members must learn to not only respectfully ask questions, but also LISTEN and accept the answers of those who have done a thing or two, whether it is what they wanted to hear or not. Only when we perfect the art of using our differences to complement each other can time unite us rather than divide…


We all have a responsibility to our citizens, our crews, our families, and even ourselves to stay fired up, one we can all help each other accomplish with very little effort. It doesn’t mean we have to eat, breathe, and sleep the fire service, just remember we are a team, a team that is supposed to work with each other not against each other. Nothing good comes when we are driven by labels or divisions that suggest our time on the job means we must act a certain way or have a certain level of knowledge. I learned equally as much from some squared away firefighters with a giant “P” on the front of their lid as I did from those with an “instructor” on their chest last weekend. Not because the junior members were phenoms or the instructors were subpar, but because when everyone WANTS to be here our differences become strengths instead of weaknesses. Remember, it doesn’t matter if we have less than a year on or less than a year until we hang it up, keeping each other in engaged is everyone’s responsibility…

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