Are You Just Taking Up Space?

I have sure been a lucky camper during my time in the fire service. Many of the folks with whom I have worked over the past four decades have been incredibly interesting, talented and productive people.


I have sure been a lucky camper during my time in the fire service. Many of the folks with whom I have worked over the past four decades have been incredibly interesting, talented and productive people. No matter what the situation, they would always show up, stand up, and play their "A" game. They were tough, thoughtful, resourceful, and, above all, team players. They made a difference.

When faced with a problem they worked hard to create a solution. When asked to put their shoulder to the wheel, they did just that. A number of these fine people are no longer with us. Fortunately it was my privilege to meet them as their careers were winding down and mine was just spooling up. I was the fortunate one, in that I was able to learn from people who had been in the business for a number of decades.

Unfortunately there were a number of other people who just seemed to be there. They specialized in attendance rather than productive labor. They were neither fish nor fowl. You could never count on them. They never wanted to contribute anything of substance. They did not even want to participate. Sometimes they acted like they never even wanted to be where they were. They were firefighters who did not want to fight fires. Why did they bother to show up?

The career people wanted their money, but they did not want to work for it. Many felt that the mere occupancy of space entitled them to their remuneration. A number of these folks specialized in channel surfing. What more could we expect when fire department spokesmen were advertising the job to the public as a sinecure position: Three hots and a cot, as we said in the military.

Heck, I saw a recent recruiting article for my old fire department where the departmental spokesman made a real great impression. He spoke of how a new firefighter would make a great deal of money and only have to work eight days per month. About the only thing he left out was the color TV and the comfortable beds. I know he impressed the daylights out of me. Are we recruiting firefighters or are we searching for wear-testers for a mattress factory. By golly, I think that sometimes we truly are our own worst enemies.

The behavior of these sorts of foppish folks was even more puzzling in the world of the volunteer fire service. Many people did the absolute minimum to stay on the roster. I could never figure out what made these people tick. Why did they bother to join us? Was there some obscure reason rattling within their brains that caused them to become volunteer firefighters? Heck, they did not even bowl or play softball.

There is a lesson to be learned here. It is my suggestion that each of you take a moment to assess the reasons for your continued membership in the fire service. I want you to take time to pause and ponder the depth and range of your commitment to the people with whom you serve. If you cannot come up with at least one good reason for staying the course in your fire department, it may be time to move along.

Perhaps one of the reasons we are having trouble recruiting into the fire service is that we have all lost our own focus and have no good things to share with the people we seek to recruit. How can we ask others to join with us if we fail to provide an explanation what it is that drives us to continue our membership through the years?

Let me share an important thought with you. Over the past decade or so, I have asked a number of people in a wide variety of fire departments what they loved about their labors. As I work to conduct fire department studies, I continually need to get a handle on the organization and the people who make up the critical human element. The answers revealed a great deal to me. Further, they have been consistent over the years.

Far and away the most prevalent answer was the camaraderie among the members of the fire department. That's right my friends; people told me that they liked being around other people who were working within an environment of shared love for the fire service. The people with whom I spoke showed an overwhelming solidarity.

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