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Who's Going to Perform Our Critical Functions in the Future?
There are two extremely critical questions that more people in the fire service should be asking: Who is going to perform our critical emergency service functions in the future? Where is the next generation going to come from? These are questions that I worked to address in an earlier commentary which came into my mind at the Congressional Fire Services Institute (CFSI) annual dinner back in April. I have discussed this issue in a number of other places.
At many of the major fire service events I attend each year, the number of younger people unfortunately is quite small. Perhaps this is because society in general has gotten very busy. People have many different activities to consume their time. Perhaps we are just a bit too difficult for most people to fit into their datebooks. After all, there are many different parts to the fire service and each takes a great deal of time. How do you add another time-consuming activity to an already-busy life?
There is another problem, however, that makes this creation of a new generation a bit more difficult. There are those who believe that the senior members are the ones with all of the knowledge and experience. These people believe that anyone with less than 30 years of service has not yet earned his or her way in the department. These folks believe that senior members should call the shots and run the show.
I have a problem with using seniority as a determining factor in any aspect of life. As a practical matter, when people become more senior, they also become older. At least that is what I have seen as I have gained seniority in life. The older people hang on for so long and fail to share so much that younger people lose interest and move on. We hog the spotlight for such a long time that others who should have been trained as our replacements fall by the wayside.
Perhaps that is why my friend Jack Peltier and I worry so much about sharing what we know. We are worried that our fire service is losing the many fine hues and tones that have made it a colorful and productive part of American culture for the past 3½ centuries. I have to stress that I am making reference to every aspect of the fire service where a giving and participative spirit is needed.
Perhaps our society has evolved away from the concept of voluntary service. I do know that the volunteer fire service in many places is struggling to fill the positions so necessary to protecting our smaller communities. I have studied this issue in depth for many years and worry that people are not taking me seriously. We need to develop the next generation of volunteer fire personnel. On the other hand, there appears to be a long line of people who want to become members of the career fire service. There is nothing wrong with this. I cannot deny that this is a fabulous way to spend a working career. I earned my way in the world as a member of the career fire service for over 30 years in a variety of venues, both civilian and military. However, these new-generation people seem to want to put in their time on the rigs and then do something else during their time away from the station. They see the fire service as just a job. I realize that some of you will take me to task for these comments, but that is what I have seen for some time now.
The new members with whom I am familiar fail to see the depth and range of the requirements for being considered active members of the many service organizations that have grown up around our field of endeavor. As I attend meetings of local, county and state fire organizations, I detect a noticeable lack of younger people. It seems to have worsened over the last few years. I have devoted time to seeking reasons for it and have identified some possible reasons for it. Perhaps it's because attending meetings is simply not as exciting as responding to emergencies.