Entitlement, running people off and the push for higher education

It’s been a while since I had a rant session so in this installment, we will be discussing, or more realistically, I will be ranting about the above topics. You will read this and at the end, you may or may not feel mentally violated.

ENTITLEMENT

I used the term entitlement in the heading because I feel it encompasses several things. It seems that nowadays, the constant influx of the “everyone got a ribbon generation” has revealed some new(er) issues. This crop of men and women have arrived at the firehouse bright-eyed and bushy-tailed with an eye on a great career. At least most of them anyway. Some are just in it for the paycheck, to say they are a “dragon slayer” or to give it a try, eventually leaving the business because it’s not for them. We will talk about them later.

Back to our young guns. These folks get into the firehouse and are put on the training track that every other recruit has been placed on. Just like car wax and hair plugs, results may vary. Some of these folks pick up the training quickly and some are turtle slow. But eventually, the “look what I did with the ladder” and “I washed the rig (poorly) by myself” situations come up and they expect some sort of reward. They don’t seem to have the mental capacity to realize that they are not special in the fire service. You don’t get a ribbon or a pat on the head every time you do something that you think is worthy of said accolades.  It becomes a hard sell to these new boots that this is the regular work that has to be done. I have seen these situations go as far as disciplinary action because the new guy/gal can’t seem to “get with the program”. Every time, the new guy or gal has claimed that they are being picked on or treated unfairly. It is a strange thing to watch happen because everyone else doesn’t understand why the new guy or gal can’t get it together. Everyone involved feels socially awkward and it causes tension among the crews.

I suppose I should back up and give some background. I am speaking of about small and mid-sized departments who don’t do big recruit classes. Rather, they get one or four new people at any given time and have to mentor them through the training process. The large recruit class model has its own dynamics and by its nature, weeds out the lazy (in most cases that are not involved in some sort of political shit show) and incapable through the course of the recruit “class”. I have never been in that type situation because of where I am in the state and in the country. I have friends that have gone through the recruit class type scenario but again, I don’t have first hand knowledge so I will leave that subject for other bloggers.

So back to Johnny or Jane new boots again, these kids want and need feedback for everything. They need to know what is expected of them. Unfortunately, they also are searching or waiting  the entire time for the “quick fix” or “easy out” solutions because they were spoon fed everything in their life system. They have a hard time believing that there isn’t a quick solution to some problems or a solution that involves someone doing it for them. They want credit for things that they are simply supposed to do and when they don’t get the credit, they whine that the crews don’t like them or that they are being treated unfairly.

I am not sure what the solution is to that type of thinking but each situation is different and they all need to be handled differently to have a positive result. Maybe gold stars are the answer…..or ribbons, perhaps cookies. You have invested a few man hours to get the individual through the application process so put a little effort into keeping them and training them right. If they do it wrong then show them a few times how you want it done. If they have been told or shown multiple time and still don’t get it, then move on to the next step of corrective action.

RUNNING PEOPLE OFF

This subject is intertwined with what we talked about above. When the type of new employee that I described above comes into the department, they need clear direction on what they are to be doing from day one. They don’t learn firehouse etiquette in their fire science classes. They don’t learn how to deal with firehouse personalities either. They are thrown directly into your crew and all the dynamics that make up your crew so don’t get your  under shorts in a bunch when they don’t automatically know what to do.

We all had our own path coming up and we all learned things a different way. It is not wrong to ask questions. It is not wrong to not know what the morning routine is and it’s not wrong to not know that you shouldn’t ask the Chief any questions before he has his morning coffee. It is not wrong to do a task wrong the first time. You need to explain why things are the way they are so that the new guy/gal understands.

But so often, we don’t do that do we? We turn a blind eye to the fact that the educational facilities in our area only teach these kids just enough to give them a chance at not getting killed in a fire. We ridicule them and brow beat them for not “knowing what’s up” or “getting with the program” when they have no idea that they shouldn’t have asked the senior guy that is topped out but hates riding the medic even though that’s his job which way the toilet paper goes on the roll.

The new boot has a hard run in the beginning and each mistake, no matter how small, is blown up by the rest of the crew to be the equivalent of stabbing a kitten in the face. It’s ridiculous and it’s our fault. The mob mentality takes over and gains momentum. We make it so hard for them that they leave. Or, we use the bull shit stories we made up about the minor mistakes they made to have them removed. We high-five each other about taking care of the “problem” but sit around the table our next shift and bitch like old grumpy women when we are short on the rig or have to ride the medic 2 times in a row. I guess being senior employees makes us feel like we have the right to bitch but not offer solutions. Bitching without offering a solution is called whining!

We tend to be in the business of not even giving people a chance some times and then wonder why we can’t get recruits or why our departments reputation starts to slide. We can’t get our heads out of each others asses to see that it is a situation we created. Hey, but we get to retire someday and get paid by a place that we didn’t really contribute to right? Super sweet!

HIGHER EDUCATION

The US is an industrialized nation. We have modeled everything after the assembly line or mass production. We have also taught people from infancy that you can only achieve if you progress through the educational system. To get high marks and to obtain a degree. The idea that our bodies are just transportation for our brains. That having the highest level of education in the land will be rewarded by the highest level of pay. It is something that all of us, up until the past 10 years or so, have been taught. Strive to be the smartest guy/gal in the room so you will be looked upon as the problem solver.

The same holds true in the fire service. We tell the young men or women that they need to stay in the books if they want to wear the white helmet someday. We disqualify people from promotional opportunities because they do not have or are not pursuing their “degrees”. I hear it from all areas of the country.

The part that we don’t tell them is that the Chiefs that a lot of us grew up under didn’t have degrees. They worked administratively and operationally to build the departments up without the framed piece of paper on the wall. They did their jobs and they did them well and they learned what it took to run a department.

Now some of you will say that a degree is what is needed to operate a department these days due to the political climates and the budgets that we have now. I don’t disagree with that. The part that I begin to have a problem with is that the amount of operational or “street” time a person has continues to be less and less important when selections are made for command officers. People are getting promoted that test and interview well but lack the intuition or operational knowledge to command a fire scene to a successful resolution. I know that every fire goes out eventually so each fire scene will end in time but there are ways to resolve incidents without a great loss of property or personnel.

Unfortunately, in some departments, as the individuals move “up the chain” they get further and further away from the operational side of the department. They lose touch with basic skills of EMS and fire suppression and become knee jerk commanders; spouting out orders that they think will work but are not based on operational knowledge. Nobody questions their decisions until something goes wrong or the scene goes off the rails.

The point I am trying to make is that you don’t always have to have a degree to be successful in this business. If that is something you want to shoot for then go for it! I have spoken to many people who have spent a great deal of time and money on degrees that they don’t use. The fire service is full of people like that.

Just know that success is measured in different ways. I have always looked up to people who work with their hands. The people that I have looked up to in this job have been the ones that know every aspect of the equipment and can tell you 100 ways to do a task. They have the knowledge that can’t be learned in a classroom. One of the people I look up to the most can tell you everything you need to know about fire service hand tools. How to use them the way they were intended to be used and all kinds of tricks to use the tools in different ways. I learn something every time we talk about tools. That is knowledge that comes from working with your hands. That knowledge is priceless and it didn’t cost him anything to learn it.

My father spent 8 years in college to become an attorney. I have always said he’s the dumbest smart person I know. He taught me about economics and government, how to balance checkbooks, how the banking system works and to ask the right questions to get the answers you want. However, that guy couldn’t show me how to build anything, fix a car or figure out why the breaker kept tripping when my mom and sister tried to run 2 hair dryers, a heater , a radio and a curling iron on the same circuit in a house with 100 amp service. Those things I had to learn from other people over the years. I love my dad but he’s got the nerd gene that he passed onto me. I didn’t get the full nerd gene so I wanted to know how to work with my hands. I sought out people to teach me and I’m glad I did. I still have no idea how to fix my car though. I have people for that.

Well that’s it for now. As always, I appreciate you stopping by to read my rants. I hope that you can take something away from it all.

If you know someone who you think would enjoy reading what I ramble on about, please share the blog with them.

Stay safe out there!

Put your faith in the knuckle dragging, window breaking, hose pulling members of your crew but don’t discount the guy who can figure friction loss in his head!

 

 

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