• Marc Aloan

The Price of Passion

(Photo: Frontline Responder Services)

There are many things we prepare ourselves for when we come on the job, feeling disconnected from it is not one of them. As much as it pains me to admit, lately I have been just that; disconnected. Although it may not seem like it, I am struggling to find meaning and purpose in what we do, a struggle that has finally gained the upper hand on my motivation. It has become difficult to do the little things that I have advocated for years would make us better. Things that used to make me feel righteous make me feel foolish as attempts to better myself and others don’t seem to be received as intended. Some days it feels like I am on a prank show where the host is going to jump out and laugh at me for actually following the script as if I was making a difference.

(Photo: Law Offices of Lee Steinberg PC)

I’m not sure how or when this rut began, but at this point it feels more like a trench with bad shoring just waiting to cave in on top of me. Many days I feel like I stumbled into quicksand where the harder I try to fight my way back to even keel, the further my motivation is submerged by the politics, bickering, and hypocrisy that seem to be the modern fire service. The usual avenues of mentors, like minds, reading, researching, training, etc. haven’t brought me back to center like usual, in fact in some cases they have pushed me further away. Even worse, I am left in a situation I despise; proposing a problem without a solution. And while I often remind those around me about the importance of separating the mission from the noise and what we control from what we do not, I am failing at doing those very things myself.

(Photo: Onrecord)

Perhaps I am in some sort of mid-career crisis, struggling to cope with what I have and have not done in my career vs. what I had planned to do. Perhaps I have reached the limits of my abilities and they do not meet my expectations. Perhaps I have let too many outside influences control my thoughts and actions. Perhaps my version of what the fire service should be is more of an illusion I have created in my mind than anything close to reality. Perhaps I am my own worst enemy, seeing things that aren’t really there. Maybe it is all of the above or a combination thereof. However, whatever the reason is behind my recent downturn in enthusiasm for a job I once couldn’t get enough of, the scariest part of my current dilemma is how many others I see in exactly the same boat. The only conclusion I keep coming back to is there is a price for our passion we were never warned about…

(Photo: FDNY 10 House)

Most of us were sold on some sort of blue-collar fantasy that suggested hard work, dedication, perseverance, and “doing the right thing” would lead us over every obstacle we encountered serving our communities, and even worse that everyone on the rig would share this approach. We were lulled with tales of the job that may no longer exist, painting a utopian romance of the “calling” that separates us from other professions while doing very little to preserve that mentality, let alone promote it. In many ways the fire service is just a shyster, telling people whatever they need to hear to join us with NO intention of living up to the expectations and promises we made to do so. In fact, by and large we do the complete opposite of our propaganda, stealing from those loyal to the mission in order to benefit the interests of the selfish. Although I am not prepared to admit it, I am starting to wonder if we are more interested in building a bureaucracy which inhibits any hope of returning to the love affair we claim to have with what the job used to be.

(Photo: Pantagraph)

There was a time in the fire service when going the extra mile was not only a thing, but the standard. We prided ourselves on being able to solve any problem at any time, no matter the cost. The members chipped in on station projects, down time was spent tuning equipment or rehearsing tactics, preparing for a promotion or special assignment was accomplished off the clock not on it, the day ended when our tasks were exhausted not when we were, and personnel actually wanted to work for a company or chief officer that challenged them. The ups and downs were shared by the team, and those who failed to do so were kindly (well not always) shown the door. However, these days, if the department isn’t paying, we aren’t doing, the workbench vise plays second fiddle to our personal vices, and the people that actually care are labeled as assholes, rather than admired. Instead of voting those who don’t cut it off the island, we try to walk those who care off the plank. Anyone who operates above (not below) the status quo gets a bounty on their head, labeling once desirable traits as qualities of rebels, mavericks, and radicals who are toxic and outdated. How twisted is that?!

(Photo: Menards)

Sometimes I think we like the idea of what the fire service stands for (or stood for depending on your perspective) more than the practice of actually doing it. Yup, I said it, we have finally subscribed to our own bullshit because despite our fancy mission statements, public service announcements, and cool slogans, in many cases we still fight our personnel to be mildly engaged in the actual performance of our trade. We focus more on being corporate than capable, spending our time and energy on regulation after regulation instead of actually being good at our vocation. How we talk to each other is under far more scrutiny than how we operate together as we continue to mistake our workplace as the firehouse instead of the fireground. We schedule our days around the daily grind instead of actually grinding, clean houses supersede clean skills, and stretching is far less important than network security. While we are on that topic, what hacker wants our time trades, maintenance requests, and training calendar anyways?! I digress…

Why do we continue to see the same problems across the fire service? Why are those doing what they are asked, told, and trained not getting to where they want to be? Why is there such a disconnect between those who are doing the work and those who are reaping the benefits? Why is the mission first on paper but not in practice? Why don’t we critique our actions as much as we do our inactions? Why do we accommodate low performers but alienate high performers? Why is passion an exception instead of an expectation? Why is loving the job now a negative quality? How can anyone do this job if they don’t take it seriously?!

(Photo: Fitness Skeptic)

It seems odd that these realities exist considering have been shoving passion, leadership, and culture, three separate but intertwined topics, down people’s throats for years. We often use these words interchangeably and insinuate they are some sort of constant within every department. They are peddled as the miracle cure to what ails any fire department of any size in any environment that is having difficulty motivating its members. Yet despite the excessive number of classes and books that cover these topics (in great detail) our famine for order, unity, and commitment remains. Although we assume these things exist everywhere and can be renewed with a little dusting or polishing, their continued and widespread absence is nothing short of alarming. If anything, our full court cultural press has backfired by leading men and women at all levels to believe the road to success is as simple as weaving these concepts into the fabric of their departments, only to lose themselves in the process when their efforts do not produce the predicted result.

(Photo: Fire Rescue 1)

The sad truth is there is a serious price for our passion, a price a few are paying to keep the rest above water. We sit back and watch the exploitation of our motivation under the promise we will one day be rewarded for our dedication while those who do the complete opposite of every developmental curriculum out there continue to climb the ladder. Unfortunately, being passionate is admired in public and shamed in the shadows. We brag about the work of our most involved and then complain about the very same people. The confident are accused of being arrogant, the arrogant are addressed as confident, and the apathetic somehow receive empathy instead of elimination in our twisted web of egos that defy common sense. In the end, most of us are not seeing passion cultivated within our ranks, we are simply allowing the same people to shoulder the burden until their back (and resolve) are finally broken as the fire service cares more about politics than passion today, despite lies to the contrary.

(Photo: Reddit)

There seems to be a rise in the number of people questioning if what they are putting into our profession is worth it. If you ask me, the reason we are seeing those once consumed with the fire service slowly taking back their time and energy is because they are realizing the value of our passion doesn’t equal its costs these days. People are tired, tired of giving their all to get a fraction of what they gave in return if they are lucky. They are tired of getting shit for staying the course while everyone else is commended even when they go off course. They are tired of being shamed, mocked, and attacked for trying to uphold their oath to the communities they serve. Quite frankly they are just tired of being tired, exhausted from putting in the labor, hours, late nights, and days off, often by themselves, only to feel punished for their passion. And while most passionate people would happily be beat into the ground for an entire career if it made everyone else better, despite their humility, at some point they need to (and should) see a return on their investment. That return doesn’t have to benefit them directly, but it shouldn’t solely benefit others at their expense…

Although I do love to speak in metaphors, maybe that is the problem. Maybe I just need to go ahead and spell it out so we can figure out how to weed it out. I am sure this won’t make me any friends in high places, but it needs to be said; the majority of people on our rosters do not act (no