First to Wake up, Last to go to Sleep: Life as a Probationary Firefighter

The probationary period helps determine if an individual is a "good fit" for the fire department.


Life as a probationary firefighter is not easy; it is not supposed to be. It is supposed to be a period where you are put through the ringer and challenged to be the best you can be. It is a period typically lasting 12 months to 18 months, and maybe up to 24 or 36 months, depending on the department. The probationary period may begin on the first day of the recruit academy, or the first day after graduating from the recruit academy. It is a time when you are under the microscope and can be terminated for any reason whatsoever.

Should this scare you away from being a probationary firefighter? Of course it should not. Most, if not all current firefighters, company officers and chief officers have had to complete a probationary period when they were hired, and many of them when they were promoted. A probationary period is a necessary period to determine if an individual is a "good fit for the department." What does a good fit mean? It can mean a number of things, but it primarily means that you get along well with others, that you are at least a minimum standard firefighter, capable of performing the job and being a safe beginner.

Contrary to what some purists or traditionalists might believe, just because someone is on probation, it doesn't mean we have the right to haze them, intimidate them, berate them, harass them, treat them as second-class citizens or yell at them. It does mean we have the obligation to challenge them to be the best they can be, to evaluate them on the knowledge, skills and abilities appropriate for their position, and to expect them to do their share and maybe a little more. In most departments, the probationary firefighter is a functioning member of the crew. Meaning, if the department staffs three personnel on an engine company, that probationary firefighter is one of the three members. One day out of the academy, and they are expected to be a functioning member of the crew. Pretty scary, and asking a lot, don't you think?

Because the probationary firefighter is expected to be a functioning member of the crew, the department is obligated to ensure they are able to be a safe beginner. When the training division "blesses" someone and says they successfully completed the recruit academy and is ready to serve on the line as a safe beginner, it is now up to the line personnel to evaluate the probationary personnel to determine whether they have retained the information taught within the academy and whether they will be a good fit for the department, at the end of the probationary period.

A probationary firefighter should be the first one up every morning, and the last one to bed, with a few exceptions. I have known some firefighters that stay up all night long, or like to go to bed at one or two in the morning. When I work at a fire station, I do not typically hit the bed until after midnight, due to the workload and projects I am involved in. I am not complaining; I enjoy what I do and what I am involved in. It is probably unrealistic to expect a probationary firefighter to wait until I go to bed at one or two in the morning before they hit the sack, and then have to get up at five thirty in the morning to start off the daily routine. However, they should be up before I am, and already have things ready for us to go off duty and the oncoming crew to start work.

I'm not advocating probationary firefighters to be the last to bed and the first to get up just because they are on probation. I don't really believe in making someone do things, "just because they are on probation." About the only things I do feel a probationary firefighter should do (besides be the last to bed and the first to rise), are to not only do their share, but also help the others out with their work and to get tested and evaluated on a more frequent basis (as opposed to someone off probation who has proven themselves by completing probation and through their everyday actions).

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