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This past year my wife and I were blessed to welcome the birth of our first child. For those who are parents know the thoughts that go through your mind; joy, excitement, nervousness, and worry just to name a few. The last 7 months have been the most amazing and important yet difficult time we’ve ever experienced.

Each day we watch our son grow, learn and take on life. He learns a little more and more about himself and us each day and us the same about him. The one thing I’ve noticed as he discovers life and becomes his own little person is his impressionable innocence. Everything he’s exposed to and everything he’s taught is absorbed like a sponge.

The same is true for those entering the fire service. New recruits come in as an empty slate who, for the most part don't know anyone or how anything works and will absorb everything they hear, see and read like a sponge. In order to keep the fire service family and brotherhood alive, it is upon us, the current generation to do our best to not allow any negative emotions or feelings towards a fellow firefighter and departmental policies be absorbed by the newer generations coming in. The best thing we could do is to look at the things we don't agree with and turn it into a positive remembering why we signed up for this job. Just like babies, new recruits are excited and have an eagerness to learn, grow and a hunger to prove themselves worthy of this job. So let's embrace the newer generations entering the fire service and show them that although there is downsides to what we do, we can always walk in with a smile on our face,  have an eagerness to learn and a willingness to always pay it forward with the hopes of developing the generations to come.

Until next time; work hard, stay safe & live inspired

About the Author

NICHOLAS J. HIGGINS is a firefighter with 17 years in the fire service in Piscataway, NJ, a NJ State certified level 2 fire instructor, a State of New Jersey Advocate for the National Fallen Firefighter’s Foundation and is the founder/contributor of the Firehouse Tribune website. A martial arts practitioner and former collegiate athlete in baseball, Nick is also a National Exercise & Sports Trainer Association Battle Ropes Instructor, Functional Fitness Instructor and Nutrition Coach.  He holds a B.S. in Accounting from Kean University, and a A.A.S in Liberal Arts - Business from Middlesex County College. Nick has spoken at the 2017 & 2018 Firehouse Expo in Nashville, TN as well as at numerous fire departments within NJ and fire service podcasts.

The Dance of Life

I'm sitting in my room, studying with an intensity I didn't know I had. It's the mid 1980's and I am in middle school. My mom and I had just moved from Philadelphia, PA to Augusta, GA for her first military assignment. It might as well be a different world. There aren’t any Philly cheesesteaks and sports teams that I’m used to seeing. Yet, in this very different place, there is one thing I feel connected to; the very thing I am so intently studying: Breakdancing.

Middle school is an age where I wanted to fit in and be cool. Being prolific in breakdancing isa ticket to coolness. I carefully read, and reread my beloved practice poster (yes, there is a practice poster for breakdancing). I watch and study MTV like a must-see webinar. And the movies! Oh, I watch every single one the day it is released. Now, I’m not really all that good. Dreamsof being a dancer on a rap video are just dreams. But I can spin around on my head and not get sent to the hospital. I work at honing these skills leading up to the next military assignmentthat my mom and I take to Belgium, then Germany. During my high school years, I find to secure the social life I want, I amgoing to need to learn different dances for different occasions. Sure, breakdancing is a great fit for house parties, but what about the Semi-formal winter dance or the Formal Prom. If I amgoing to get dates and not look like a fool, I am going to need to dabble in the right kind of dancing to move my social life along.

Advancing your career with training and education is a lot like learning the right dance. All of the dances are great, but serve a different purpose.

• Dances at the house party is down to earth, wild, sometimes crazy or zany. In your career, this equates to training in the fire service. The drills for new people. Improving the skills of tenured people. Working with other stations and units. There is a general way it should be done, but there is room for creativity.

• Semi-formal dances have a bit more structure. These are your conferences, conventions, 1-3-day trainings. Going to regional schools. Going to FDIC and FRI. They are home grown classes that may have originated at the fire station, but are now on a bigger stage.

• Formal danceshave set expectations for how the event is happening. Dress like this. Move this way. These include official college certifications and formal classes such as Fire Officer I. They take more time and have a set structure. That structure allows for your education to be comparable to others across the world. It helps to measure your investment. It helps to increase your creditability.

Just like my dance life, you will do the most good for yourself by attending all the dances. Over reliance on station training may mean not keeping up with best practices. Over reliance on college and other formal training classes will lead to understanding theory, and not practical application. You are advancing your fire service life; your fire service career. Be sure to take part in training and education in all three parts to be ready for the big dances that are coming. And you won’t need to spin on your head, either!

Ordinary People Have Extraordinary Impact.

About the Author

 NICK BASKERVILLE Nick has had the honor of serving in the United States Air Force for 10 years, followed by 4 years in the United States Air Force Reserves. He attained the rank of Technical Sergeant (E-6). Nick also has 18 years of fire service time, with 15 years of that being in a career department in Northern Virginia. Nick has had the opportunity to hold positions in the Company Officer's section of the Virginia Fire Chief's Association (VFCA), The Virginia Fire Officer's Academy (VFOA) staff, and as one of the IABPFF representatives to the Fire Service Occupational Cancer Alliance. Nick is one of the many trainers for Firefighter Cancer Support Network (FCSN) to offer awareness and prevention training about cancer in the fire service. Nick has the honor of being one of the many contributors for The Firehouse Tribune.

What Are You Telling People?

I say “Good afternoon!How are you doing?” I am stopping to getodds and ends at a supermarket. It is atypical day during the summer here in Maryland;so being inside provides a bit of relief from the heat and humidity. The cashier is who I give this standard greeting. He is tall, lanky, and young. My guess is that this is probably his Summer job. Admittedly, I ask the question about his day out of rote practice. I just heard the conversationbetween the cashier and the person before me. I already know his answer. His response?“Oh, I can't complain.” That’s not the answer he gave the other guy.

In speaking with the person just before me, this is the response I hear him say: “Man it’s hot in here. It feels good at first, but then, it’s hot again.” Now, this is a supermarket, not a court of law. I will not prosecute him for telling me one thingand another person something else. And given that he and the other person are wearing the same uniform shirt, it makes sense. He is more comfortable with a known, coworker than anunknown, customer. We all have things that bother us. We are just not up front about telling everyone about them. And that’s fine, until you aren’t fine.

Everyone has problems.Whether or not someone will talk about them is another story. Over the last few months,firefighters in nearby jurisdictions have taken their own lives.An article from CNN article last year* states “Last year (in 2017), 103 firefighters and 140 police officers committed suicide, whereas 93 firefighters and 129 officers died in the line of duty, which includes everything from being fatally shot, stabbed, drowning or dying in a car accident while on the job.” In a discussion I had shortly after that, a question was posed to me; if I had a problem, who would I tell? Who would I tell what I felt, versus what the pre-canned answer of “Oh, I can’t complain.”

There are many people better qualified than I to speak on mental health. What I give you then, is not vast knowledge, but perspective. One that focuses on just on aspect of the problem of mental health in the fire service. Many people wouldn’t know who to tell their problems to if their life depended on it. If you had a problem, who would you tell?Not just any problem, but the kind of problem that would make you question being alive. How much trust you have in another person is proportional with how much would you revel to him or her. Who do you trust enough to tell that kind of problem?

I don’t feel like fire service culture makes it easy to talk about weakness, mistakes, and problems people tend to face. In order to have a conversation on that level, there has to be a sense of closeness between 2 people. A sense of trust.Listening to the comments of the young cashier and the guy he was talking to, they are obviously closer to each other than to me. They know each other. They have history. I'm just some dude picking up some odds and ends. No need to trust me with a problem statement.

As leaders, I ask we all take a look at what we are doing to make it easy for people to talk about problems. To find the common places and build bridges of trust and safety. Part of leadership is figuring out what that is for each individual. That's a pretty tall order. I've had a fewsuccesses and many more failures throughout my entire career.I don't know that I have a set answer. I will tell you what life has taught me so far. Keep saying “Good morning! How are you doing?” If I go back to that same store on a regular basis and interact that same cashier, eventually, we will get to know each other better. Eventually, we will talk about more things. Eventually, he’ll let me know when the heat is getting to him. Eventually, he’ll trust me enough to tell me what he really feels. Relationships are a lot like planting fruit trees. It takes a while to nurture the progress, but in the end, the fruit that is produced is worth it. As a leader, make trust your everyday order of business. Make trust ordinary, and you will see extraordinary impact.   

*From <https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2018/04/11/officers-firefighters-suicides-study/503735002/>

 About the Author

 NICK BASKERVILLE Nick has had the honor of serving in the United States Air Force for 10 years, followed by 4 years in the United States Air Force Reserves. He attained the rank of Technical Sergeant (E-6). Nick also has 18 years of fire service time, with 15 years of that being in a career department in Northern Virginia. Nick has had the opportunity to hold positions in the Company Officer's section of the Virginia Fire Chief's Association (VFCA), The Virginia Fire Officer's Academy (VFOA) staff, and as one of the IABPFF representatives to the Fire Service Occupational Cancer Alliance. Nick is one of the many trainers for Firefighter Cancer Support Network (FCSN) to offer awareness and prevention training about cancer in the fire service. Nick has the honor of being one of the many contributors for The Firehouse Tribune.