In The Jumpseat with David Wiklanski

Where do you see the fire service in the next 5-10 years?

 In the next 5-10 years, the fire service will find itself tasked with even more evolving missions. The unfortunate part of the additional task loading is that our manpower will likely continue to decline and we will be forced to do much more, with less.

Of what you can see why has there been a decline in volunteers over the past decade?

In most areas, the cost of living is simply too high to be able to afford to have a family and live in some communities. As a result, the volunteer applicant pool for that area is often compromised. With the additional mission taskings we will require additional training. That training adds hours, which results in less time with families and more time at the firehouse. Many people have issues with Work/Life balance normally, and these additional hours tend to cause more problems. The increased demands due to their full-time employment, the commuting distances, increased hours per day don’t leave many hours left for all of their other roles and responsibilities.

Who in the fire service do you look up to as a mentor?

I have had many mentors in the past. I learn from everyone, including the students that I teach. My earliest mentors were the two most senior guys in my volunteer house. Known collectively as the two Charlies, Charles Flasser and Charles Kuenstner taught me a tremendous amount without needing a formal classroom setting. They taught me the value of the brotherhood, that it was never wrong to ask questions when you didn’t understand something and if you wanted to know something, Ask. Some of the lessons that they taught me, I will never forget and will continue to teach to the next generation of firefighters.

What book(s) are you currently reading?

Due to my commuting distance to work, I have started dealing with audiobooks. As a result, I tend to burn through a book roughly every three or four days. The most recent one was called The Gift of Failure by Jessica Lahey. While geared at parents of smaller children, it is easily applicable across the spectrum of emergency services. It addresses how we are afraid of failure and endangering our egos and self-esteem, yet without failure, we can’t accept winning. You have to be able to understand loss, in order to appreciate joy.

Looking at all the areas of the fire service (engine ops, truck co. ops, technical rescue, etc.), what area or areas do you tend to focus on the most? And why?

In an operational capacity, I love forcible entry. Between the conventional side of things and the through the lock side, I want to know everything that I can in order to ensure that we have access to our objective. In my city, as in many others, simply destroying someone’s property in the name of doing our job is unacceptable. By learning and teaching through the lock methods (TTL), I have been able to accomplish my goals with minimal damage to property and in the event that more damage is necessary, we often can work with the resident in an effort to get the damage restored properly and quickly.  In a professional capacity, my mission is to reduce the stigma associated with behavioral health emergencies on the provider/responder side. The Firefighter suicide numbers tend to overtake the Firefighter LODD numbers and that terrifies me. There are many resources available to providers who may be having difficulty in life, and I want them to know that calling for help is fine. We are willing to call a Mayday if we are physically trapped, but if we are psychologically in danger, we clam up. The culture of the fire service will need to adapt in an effort to address these issues and more.

If you were to leave the fire service today, what mark do you hope to leave on it?

If I were to leave, I would hope that there would be individuals that I have positively influenced, and that the lessons that I have taught them, either directly or indirectly, have enabled them to contribute to their own department or agency and lead by example. I worked for a Captain who did 30 years on the job. Lessons that he taught me starting from my very first day still carry over despite his retirement. I want to have that type of impact when I leave.

What advice would you give young firefighters or men and women thinking of becoming part of the fire service?

As with any decision, ensure you do due diligence. Ask yourself, what are my expectations and intentions? Once you establish what your expectations are, then find out if this field meets those expectations. If you have seen shows like Chicago Fire, Rescue Me, or even Third Watch, that’s not the real fire service. If you are expecting to be non-stop busy, going to fires several times a day and never having a “slow” day, you are likely mistaken. The “routine” days will outnumber the busy days, and the anticipated excitement might not exist. Find yourself an agency that has senior members that are willing to talk about their careers. See if their experiences across their years match your expectations of what you want from this profession.

What is the driving force behind your success?

I have to give credit to my family, as they have supported me through everything. They are the impetus for why I train as hard as I do, and my motivation to come home at the end of every shift. The mentors and leaders that I have had the privilege to work for, who have all taught me lessons, both good and bad. The men and women that I get to work alongside that constantly motivate me to be better, and to continue striving in my career. 

And that's a wrap for our fifth installment of Station Talk. In our next segment we will sit down with Sidney Lucas and learn about what areas of the fire service he has the most passion for, education and his driving force behind his successful career in the fire service. 

Until Next Time; Work Hard, Stay Safe & Live Inspired.