I’m a Firefighter, So Now What?

I would first off like to start by welcoming and congratulating you all into a very special family and thank you for making a commitment to protecting and serving others.  We all start out as “rookie” firefighters not knowing what to expect when making the decision to enter into such a commitment as the fire service but we all know there’s a reason deep down in each of us that is calling us to this service.  Just like anything else we start off as a blank slate ready to learn with a ton of ambition and drive to succeed.  

In the beginning we feel scared, our nerves are eating at us and we don’t want to make anyone think we can’t do this while the pressure is mounting but we are determined not to be defeated.  Being in this situation is a scary task and feeling as if you are alone is a real experience.  Because of this, here is a list of 10 ways to grow as a firefighter, stay motivated and have a great fire service career:

1. Respect and honor the fire service.  Guys who were here before you paved the way for you to be in this today.  Respect their sacrifices and honor their legacies.  Not everyone can follow in the firefighting tradition.  Consider it an honor. 

2. Stay humble.  Egos are only as big as front door and should be left outside the house.  Cockiness is a firefighter killer and there is no room for it in the firehouse or on the fire ground.  

3. Show respect.  The words “please”, “thank you” and addressing chief and company officers as such goes a long way to a long respective career (volunteer or paid).  Showing signs of professionalism at all times is a key to success that will leave a lasting impression on the guys you are working with and will ultimately earn you a level of respect. Remember, treat others how you yourself would want to be treated. 

4. Strive for excellence.  Have a “can do” attitude.  Come in each and every day with the attitude of a winner, show initiative, work hard and dedication and you may impress even the most experienced member of your department.  Excellence is a habit. Not a goal.

5.  Know your crew members.  Getting to know the men and women you serve with is a great way to build a working relationship and develop teamwork.  Do this through simple conversation, training and on scene teamwork. But remember, what you do on the fire ground will positively or negatively impact your crew and you won’t be judged individually but as a whole.  We are a TEAM in and out the firehouse.       

6. Know your PPE.  You were given the PPE for a reason and shown in the academy how to wear it properly, again for a reason.  This isn’t a fashion show and no one cares how silly you look as long as you come home safe and in one piece.  We aren’t indestructible.

7. Know your apparatus.  The better you know your apparatus, the better you know your skills and know what’s expected of you when assignments are given. 

8.  Educate yourself.  Training and education doesn’t end the day you’re certified through the state as a firefighter.  Firefighting, like anything else takes years of dedication to be proficient at.  Training doesn’t come just inside the firehouse with your crew.  Self-studying, training and continuous education is the key to staying mentally sharp and promotes growth. 

9.  Complacency Kills.  No two fires or alarms are the same and SHOULD NOT be treated as such.  Always strive for more and never stop wanting to be better than you were yesterday.

10. Look to the future.  Sooner than later the term will go from “rookie” or “probie” or even “FNG” (we can all fill in the blanks on that one) and will become experienced firefighters and for some of us, even have a company officers rank but don’t ever forget how you got there.  Always remember you were once the “new guy on the block” and how hard work, discipline and dedication got you to where you are today.  Share the experiences and knowledge with the new generations as they come on because one day those boots you grew into will be passed on to the next.  The best way to leave your mark is quoted by the Dalai Lama “Share your knowledge.  It’s the best way to achieve immorality”. 

Speaking from experience, this is a very long and daunting task that takes years of dedication to accomplish and I challenge all firefighters to take these words, step up and complete the lifelong challenge.  

Until next time; work hard, stay safe and live inspired. 

About the Author

NICHOLAS J. HIGGINS is a firefighter with 14 years of service all within departments in Piscataway, NJ. Nick has held the ranks of Lieutenant and Captain as well as being a township elected District Fire Commissioner for 1 term (3 years) in Piscataway, NJ. He is also a NJ State certified level 2 fire instructor. He holds a B.S. in Accounting from Kean University working in Corporate Taxation and is the founder/contributor of the Firehouse Tribune website.