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In Search of the Real Fire Department

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Mike West

Joined: 02 Aug 2004
Posts: 97
Location: USA

PostPosted: Fri Aug 05, 2005 8:58 pm    Post subject: In Search of the Real Fire Department Reply with quote

How often have you heard the term "real fire department"? It seems to be a common phrase, usually indicating that someone is unhappy with something or everything about the fire department for which they work or volunteer. You know the comments I am talking about: "I wish we were a real fire department." "My cousin works for a real fire department." "When I get hired on there, I'll finally be with a real fire department."

When I teach outside of my department, I sometimes hear, "Well, it's easy for you. You work for a real department." I recently heard a member of my own fire department ask, "Why can't we be a real fire department? We're playing the same game but in a different league."

Does this sound familiar? Where is this real fire department anyway? Is it in the East? The West? Maybe in the desert? Do its members wear plastic or leather helmets? Does it have red or yellow engines? Does it even exist in the first place?

Well, I am here to tell you that you can stop looking. The real fire department is closer than you think. It is the one you are with-no matter where it is located. "Real" is defined by you. It is what you do, how you react, and how you plan on operating within the system. Nothing else.

A couple of years ago I was at a conference. During one of the question-and-answer sessions, a brother stood up and told of his terrible plight in the fire service- how none of his firefighters would perform as required and how the place was falling down around him. The speaker looked at him and immediately proclaimed, "It's not their fault, it's yours. If it's wrong, it's your job to fix it."


So, how do we do this? I believe there are a few key areas to which each of us can contribute that will make our own fire department the real one for which we are searching.

Be responsible. Take the words "That's not my job" out of your vocabulary. If something is broken, fix it. If something is lost, find it. Firefighters must take responsibility for their assigned tools. Company officers must take responsibility for the performance of their companies; chief officers must take responsibility for their battalions or divisions. Too often, we blame it on B-shift or the other company or the chief of the department. It becomes easy to look around you and say, "That guy doesn't care. Why should I?" You should care because you are a professional, no matter who pays your salary.


Responsibility leads to one of the key fireground success factors in which I believe-expectation. It's the people who don't expect to have a fire who struggle when they get one. The brothers and sisters who expect and prepare for the call will have their ducks in a row. They have checked out their equipment. They know what streets are closed. They know their capabilities and those of the other members and the apparatus on which they will ride. The person who comes to the fire station and expects to wash his car or to catch up on a nap is the member who can't find his SCBA mask as the rest of the company presses through the front door of the apartment fire. Be in the door first. Expect a job, and prepare for it.


I am not speaking about the passport or incident command system here. It has nothing to do with T-cards. I mean the commitment you have to watch out for each other. Accountability is noting what team or company is working in the adjacent room and making sure your actions don't hurt them. It's looking back as you climb the stairs to see the member behind you so that if something catastrophic happens in the next few minutes, you'll know who and where that person is so he can be found. Accountability is the contract you make with your partner as you enter a smoky hallway. "I'm going left"; "I'm going right" means that you are looking out for them and they for you if something happens. Accountability is our commitment to each other. That's what holds brothers together.


Maybe the largest area that defines realness is attitude. You choose how you react to matters inside the department. Like it or not, if you're not happy, it is how you have chosen to react. It is up to you to choose a good attitude. Understand what things you can change, and understand what is outside your scope. In many cases, when you handle your piece of the organization, you will find others around you looking to do the same. Get involved with the work groups or committees making a difference. Sitting around the lunch table and complaining doesn't make it better. It rarely helps anyone involved in the conversation feel good, and it definitely doesn't improve you or your fire department. Don't waste your time.

So, where is the real fire department? It is right where you are standing. Can one person, following the above prescription, make a difference? I believe the answer is yes. Look at the departments you regard as real. Many of your opinions about their excellence are based on your experience with one or two individual members of that department. Maybe it was fostered by an article you read written by one of the members. Their fire stations, their problems, and their members are no different from yours. Stop looking elsewhere for the real fire department. Just look in the mirror.

Fire Engineering May, 2002

Be safe,
Mike West
Fired Up Training Services LLC
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Andrew Brassard

Joined: 11 Nov 2006
Posts: 9
Location: Milton, Ontario Canada

PostPosted: Sat Nov 11, 2006 6:37 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

If your department is not the best fire department in the world, then you have allot of work ahead of you to make it the best.

I had a lacrosse coach that once said "if you play for second place that is all you will ever get"; I think that applies to the fire service as well..... If you think your department is second place than it always will be and you are part of the problem!!

I think that Mike hit the nail on the head with his recommendations; there is one thing that I would add to the list...... Leadership.

I played sports at a very high level growing up and I can tell you from my experience that a teamís attitude almost always reflected the leadership of the team (i.e. coaching staff, Captains, senior members, etc.) As we all know the fire service is the biggest and best team "sport" in the world so the same should apply. You rarely ever see a good, aggressive, knowledge filled Captain with a bunch of couch potatoes for a crew (at least in my experiences).

So in my opinion one link in the chain to correct the problem is to start from the top down. Great officers (usually) make great firefighters, and great firefighters (usually) make great officers. Lead your members from day one, donít just teach them how to force doors and pull hose teach them to love the job and make it a little better for the next generation of firefighters.

Be a great leader to your firefighters and together you will create a ďreal fire department"

"be the firefighter you would wan't coming to save your family"
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