'Tis the Season
Although the holidays are a special time for family, giving, and togetherness, those in emergency services tend to see the other side of the holiday season which stems from the struggles faced by many this time of year. As most trim their trees, plan their parties, and wrap their gifts, there are untold numbers of others who succumb to the pressure of finances, providing, and delivering a Christmas that lives up to the hype without the means to do so. Then there are those who have become estranged from their families or don’t have one at all. With the true meaning of the season all but extinct from the choke hold of marketing, greed, and profit margins, it easy to forget that Christmas is not so merry for everyone…
I made an interesting observation just before Thanksgiving this year which has only validated itself as we close in on the year’s end. That observation came in the form of messages, texts, and phone calls from some of the most dedicated, inspirational, talented brothers I know who were contemplating throwing in the towel or finding difficulty maintaining their enthusiasm. Many of these individuals instruct at the highest levels of our profession and were literally thinking about giving up! Although our troubles wane in comparison to those who are physically alone or in need this time of year, there is definitely some parable to a group in our firehouses feeling the same way as the calendar nears its end; the passionate.
If you are finding yourself a little lost this time of year, you are certainly not alone. Before we get discouraged why not take a few minutes to dissect our frustrations and figure out why they seem amplified as the year closes out. Let’s begin our analysis by looking at motivation. Typically, we can coax even the biggest slugs out of their recliner a few times a month. They may not like it and they may not do much, but they will comply at least some of the time. As the leaves begin to fall, these battles seem to become harder and harder to fight. Our influence, drive, and message have not changed, so how is it we can get Firefighter Sits A. Lot out of his seat much more readily on June 1st than we can on December 1st? Well, it is actually quite simple; year to date training hours. That’s right, as a profession we measure “performance” with annual statistics. While we may require so many hours or trainings a month, they are typically accounted for by annual accruals. For those who scrape by with the minimum and are motivated only by doing enough not to lose their job or spot on the roster, once that annual total hits the mark they hit the recliner or disappear! Therefore, there is no incentive to participate at the end of the year for those who do not share our passion or think our intentions are off the mark.
Next, distractions begin to increase as we enter the final quarter of the year. Sports are in full swing, the weather starts to cool down, the clocks roll back along with the daylight, there are more holidays, fire prevention month requires our attention, many are trying to burn off unused vacation days, the community floods our stations with food to express their appreciation, and the inevitable temptation of comfort begins to tighten her grip. With these distractions come excuses. “It’s too cold”, “it’s snowing”, “it’s a holiday”, “I ate too much”, “it’s too dark”, “the game is on”, “it’s the playoffs”, “why waste training hours, let’s wait until next year”, or “it’s a good day to relax” are just a few of the excuses that show up like a membership to the jelly of the month club. Not only have the mutts used up their limited supply of motivation for the year, but now they have excuses they believe validate their lack of enthusiasm as well!
Finally, the “non-essential” personnel are sparse during the holiday season. Although the rig still rides on those coveted banker’s holidays, those who work M-F do not. Typically, that places most of our higher ranking individuals out of the office more than they are in it as they attend year end meetings, get extended holiday breaks, plan and attend gatherings or award banquets, and burn up the vacation time they never got to take because they were busy dealing with the shenanigans of the boys and girls on the line all year long. Not that these folks don’t deserve some time to wind down and decompress like the rest of us, but it means we have less backing to get things done when the aforementioned year-end lethargy sets in. Where we can normally push things up the chain to get the indifferent moving, we are often left with a grade school-esque standoff of “you can’t make me” in the absence of our allies who occupy the day shift.
Although those who live for the job know that the need for passion, dedication, and accountability does not change with the calendar, those who live and die by the bare minimum will never understand that. This means we will spend our busiest time of year letting such attitudes cost us great opportunities for lessons learned from after action reviews and company critiques and ignoring the never ending need to maintain our skills. And no matter how much we preach, beg, barter, negotiate, or threaten, without a specific measurement or organizational enforcement we will spend the final weeks of the year training, sweating, and polishing by ourselves as the masses succumb to holiday hibernation.
Let's face it, we are no strangers to a little adversity and lack of support. Even though we may feel abandoned and useless this time of year, it is NOT the time to give up. In fact, it is the polar opposite. This is when our departments and citizens need us to push the most. This is the time of year that those with passion are the only sign of an organizational pulse. We are not any less effective, noticed, or necessary right now, we are just outgunned by circumstances that benefit the mutts more than they do us. Instead of losing our drive, take advantage of the time and focus on ourselves a little bit more. Do a little research, set goals for the upcoming year, sign up for some classes, get those conference tickets purchased, or volunteer some time at the fire academy. Try something new without the peanut gallery trying to sabotage you, workout the kinks in that new training evolution, build some props, or write that proposal you haven’t made the time for. Work on individual skills like masking up, throwing ladders, hitting the hydrant, or advancing a line by yourself. There is too much to be accomplished to waste time sulking about people who don’t care in the first place! Don’t let the winter blues get you down! Grab the shovel and start digging out of that winter rut!