New Rookie

If you don't start out on the right foot, they will show you the door. The crew already knows more about you than you think before you show up.

I talked to a devastated candidate at a written test. This paramedic had been hired with four other medics by a good fire department. After four months he was fired. He said he thought things were going fine. Then, the captain started telling him that the other firefighters didn't like some things he was saying, started counseling and documenting him for not taking down the flag, rolling up the hose, etc. He said he was busy doing other assignments. The writing was on the wall.

I asked him what the other new rookies were doing? He said they were too busy kissing ass. My only reply was, "I hope you learned that if you were too busy kissing ass, you wouldn't be trying to get another job!"

A large agency BC was sitting on a recent oral board for medics only. Twenty-five candidates came through his oral board that had been fired by other departments. When they were asked why they were let go, they answered it was a conflict of interest. In his mind he said yea it was you. If you can't keep your mouth shut, learn and do you job once you hit the floor for a year, why should we take a chance on you.

What you do when you first start out will set your reputation and follow you throughout your career. If you don't start out on the right foot, they will show you the door. The crew already knows more about you than you think before you show up.

Use these standards during station visits, your interview process, and as a new rookie to demonstrate you already know what to do when hired:

You're a snotty nose rookie. Keep your mouth shut. Be cordial, friendly and humble. You have no time or opinion until you earn it. You can't force it. That will come with a lot of calls and a few fires.

Cell phones are causing problems for candidates and rookies. I can't believe the stories I'm hearing. Candidates are carrying their cell phones to written tests. A candidate was in a department academy and his cell phone starts to ring. He told the training officer, can you hold on a minute, I have a call. Yeah, right. The training officer told the class the next time he hears a cell phone go off, they were going to play who can throw the cell phone the furthest.

On an emergency call, the BC was trying to raise dispatch without success on the radio. The rookie took his cell phone, speed dialed dispatch and handed his cell phone to the BC. Cute? Smart? Innovative? That's not the reception he received.

Rookies are carrying their cell phones and crackberry's on duty. Their phone rings, they answer it and go right into cell yell with their friends and relatives. Wives, girl friends and dysfunctional others call all day long with important stuff and to do pillow talk. Cell phones are ringing in locker rooms. Some try to be cool by putting their cell phones on vibrate or stun. Even though they might not answer them when they go off, they still pick them up to check the caller ID or the text message. Then when they think no one is looking, they slip off and return the call. THIS IS DUMB! These are not part of your emergency issue.

This will not get you off on the right foot. Big clue here. Leave the electronic leashes off and in your vehicle, along with your piercings, until a time where all your duties are complete. No matter what you might think and how friendly everyone seems to be, you are being watched! It could hurt you big time.

If you have an emergency situation, ask your officer if you can carry your phone because you are expecting an emergency call.

Call your new captain before your first shift and ask if he wants you to bring anything in. Bring a peace offering of donuts and desert your first day. Homemade is best. Arrive early and ask the off-going firefighter what you should know at that station. Your new captain should meet with you to outline his expectations. If not, ask him. Unless you're told differently, put up and don't forget to take down the flag. If the phone or the doorbell rings, make sure you're the first one running to answer it. There will be certain duties on each day of the week. Tuesday could be laundry day, Saturday yards. Keep track. Stay busy around the station. Always be in a clean proper uniform. Always be ready to get on the rig and respond.

Check out the gear on the rig each morning. Make sure the O2 gauge and the reserve bottle shows enough to handle a long EMS call.

Firefighters usually have "Their" place to sit at the table and in front of the TV. Don't hog the newspaper. The off-going shift has the first crack at the newspaper. You probably have probation tests. Don't park yourself in front of the TV; you have a test coming up. Stay busy. No matter what the atmosphere, you're being watched.

Although you might be a good cook, don't volunteer to cook until asked or rotated in. Make sure your meals are on time. The old adage "Keep them waiting long enough and they will eat anything" doesn't apply here. Be the last one to serve your plate. Don't load up your plate the first time around. Wait to go for seconds.

Always have your hands in the sink doing the dishes after a meal. Be moving out with the garbage and mopping the kitchen floor after each meal.

Learn how to help the officer complete response reports.

Don't tell jokes until you're accepted.

Don't gossip.

Don't play "Your" music on the radio. Don't be a stupid generation X'er or Y'er and always ask why when told to do something. Help others' with their assignments when you finish yours.

Even if you're a jock, consider not joining the department sports teams until you're accepted.

Be cautious of political and social events. You could find yourself in a bit of foreseeable trouble dealing with nothing more than wrong place, wrong time, in the business political fortitude. Messing with politics at any level is dangerous, but it could have been lethal as a rookie.

Ask how you're doing. Volunteer for assignments. Keep track of these to present at your evaluations.

Don't start pulling hose and other equipment at a scene until the captain tells you. Always get off the rig before it backs up. Stand to the rear side to guide the rig. Never turn your back on the backing up rig.

It's not uncommon to move to one or more stations during your probation. At your new station, don't act like you already have time. Unfortunately, you have to start all over again as the new rookie.

You will have an elated feeling rolling out on your first calls. There is nothing like it. It could last your whole career. Enjoy and savor it. You earned it. You're the last of America's Heroes.

I miss it.

"Nothing counts 'til you have the badge . . . Nothing!"

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Fire "Captain Bob" Author of Becoming A Firefighter, Conquer Fire Department Oral Boards, and It's Your Turn in the Hot Seat!