Like It or Love It?
Firefighting is one of few professions left with a reputation for employing members truly dedicated to its mission. I would argue our success greatly depends on maintaining this reputation with both internal and external shareholders alike. Unfortunately, as our actions and operations continue to come under increased scrutiny, some are beginning to realize this may no longer be the case…
It feels like we have more and more on our rosters who claim to love our profession but act in a manner the doesn’t support such claims. There seems to be a growing number of firefighters portraying the image of being committed without actually applying any of the principles that create it. They say the right things, quote the right people, follow the right social media, and display the right paraphernalia only to retreat to the solitude of their rack or favorite hiding spot when there is no reward or spotlight for their “commitment”. The result is the appearance of buy in without the dedication that should follow it. And sadly, if anyone actually enamored by our craft dare question their alleged dedication, they are accused of violating the brotherhood our cultures rely so heavily upon.
Loving the job has never been more in style, a reality that I am not sure will actually benefit us the way we think it will. Although there is certainly an authentic resurgence of impassioned firefighters unfolding in the fire service, tragically it has almost become trendy to be “into the job”. As with most popular movements it is being infiltrated by imitators seeking to manipulate the concept to advance themselves or their agenda, devaluing the movement in the process.
I like to compare firefighting to sports because the collection of individual skills which create a team effort are nearly identical. If we remember we are tactical athletes, the parallels of sports become that much more relevant. Like athletes, we demonstrate whether we like or love our sport with our actions, many of which occur before we ever actually compete. While that means batting practices, morning skates, or free throws to the typical athlete, for the firefighter it means hitting the forcible entry prop, pulling lines, and learning the district. It means making time to be fit for duty, taking care of our equipment, and understanding it is usually more vital to know where we lack than where we excel.
Sadly, if we really pay attention, we will notice the real trend in the fire service is most only have an appetite for the job when they are answering a call for service, something I have never been able to grasp. Many live at the minimum while telling everyone tales about all the times they gave their maximum. Oddly, they cringe when it is time to drill or sweat, participating but showing no actual indication they enjoy performing the skills of their trade. Instead, they treat training like a punishment, jumping at any opportunity to end early just to sit around or focus on other aspirations. Even worse, these same self-proclaimed students of the craft mock and sabotage those who are actually engaged to protect their passionate masquerade.
The harsh reality is many do not love the job the way they say they do, but rather they love how people treat them when they think they do. Many of the same people who claim the job is their calling are the same ones whining about drilling, avoiding training, and taking the easy way out. They moan and groan about everyone around them but do very little to actually contribute themselves. They don’t want to do anything else but they don’t want to invest in their firemanship either, so they fester under the illusion they have created, slowly stealing not only the prestige of the job others have earned for them, but the motivation of those around them. These are the same people that learn the loopholes to protect themselves when exposed, often sacrificing the small percentage of the membership that actually do love the job in the process.
Unfortunately, we must understand that those who like the job are content to show up and go home, but those who love it never really leave, even in their absence. The hard truth is those of us who feel the job is more of a lifestyle than a profession are a dying breed. Our passion creates a sensation that is ultimately responsible of our success while simultaneously being the root of much of our frustration. We can be found sweating alone or in small groups while others enjoy the spoils of our labor. We carry the weight of teammates who don’t even realize we are carrying them. In some twisted way we often feel guilty for asking others to participate because we were told our example would be enough to energize them, advice that feels like more of a myth far too often.
Sadly, we file most of these truths under some flashy new form of leadership designed to take the sting out of reality just a little bit. But at the end of the day no matter how bad we want to give up, our passion continues to burn even when we don’t. We know we will keep going, as do they. So, we continue to spin this vicious circle of draining the few to fill the many, hoping that if nothing else our presence and influence elevates the team just a little bit.
Remember, nobody can make you want it. As Michael Jordan said, “Some people want it to happen, some wish it would happen, others make it happen.” Nothing we say will ever be as meaningful as what we do. While simply being associated with our profession comes with admiration, we cannot really be fulfilled unless we are constantly engaged. So, ultimately it is up to us to decide, do we like it or love it? The answer is seen in our work…