The previous article discussed seven reasons why people resign, leave, fail out of the fire academy, or are terminated during probation. This article will discuss eight more reasons why people resign, leave, fail out of the fire academy, or are terminated during probation. Learn from the mistakes others have made so you can start your career out on the right foot!
8. Not completing academic assignments during probation
9. Excessive absences during the academy and probation - Keep yourself healthy and fit! Missing even one day of the academy can be the end of your career with that department. Eat healthy, exercise appropriately but not excessively, get plenty of sleep, and try to stay away from sick people! I know a probationary firefighter that got into a motorcycle accident halfway through probation, and ended up having to miss approximately four months of work. Now realize that they did not have that much sick time to utilize (they did not even have a month of sick time accrued yet). They were able to secure other people to work their assigned duty days (as shift trades).
While the department wasn't obligated to do this for a probationary person who did not have the sick leave accrued, the department was nice enough to accommodate this excessive trade request (some departments require the fire chief to approve more than so many trades in a row or a certain time period). Now while the person has to pay back all of those shift trades, they at least still have a job and they didn't have to take leave without pay for over three months (hard to pay the bills when you aren't getting paid).
Realize though that the person couldn't get any of their probationary sign-offs completed during the time they were sick and couldn't make their mandatory monthly testing they were required to be at with their classmates. Because of this, the department extended their probation to give them more time to make up their missed tests and missed sign-offs, which some departments would not have bothered to even do.
What's the moral of the story? Keep yourself healthy, keep your name in good standing at the department, keep up on all of your sign-offs, and wait to buy or use the toys that can cause you to miss time from work (motorcycles, skis, snowboards, jet skis, personal watercraft, etc.) until you have completed probation!
10. Failure to perform - This idea is pretty straightforward. You were ranked number one because of what you said during your 20 minute oral interview. You told the department how great you were and how awesome of a firefighter you would be. Now, you can't even properly throw a ladder or don your SCBA in the required time frame of 60 seconds or less. Failing the manipulative (hands-on) skills tests you will be put through daily, weekly, and monthly can and eventually will, lead to you being asked to leave.
11. Not asking for help - Don't wait until the last minute to ask for help with either the book stuff or the hands-on stuff! Most people ask for help after it is too late. Recognize your deficiencies and weaknesses early and accurately so you can work towards improving on them.
12. Family pressure / responsibilities - Your family is your most important responsibility in life. They should be there before you became a firefighter and after you retire from your firefighting career. Make the time to keep them happy and balance all of your personal and professional responsibilities. The fire service already has a high divorce / separation rate; don't add your name to the list. While it is always tempting to work that extra overtime shift because you need the money (or the money has already been spent), I doubt you would be able to find a firefighter on their death bed stating "I wish I had worked that extra overtime shift." I bet they would instead say "I wish I would have spent more time with my family." If you need the money that bad, and you can't live off of your salary without the overtime, you either need to find a new career, have your spouse get a job, or learn to control your spending habits.
13. Finding out this was not the career they wanted actually be in - Strange as it might seem, many people don't realize this until they either start the academy or get out of the academy.
14. Not being a team player (loner) - The fire service is not the best place to be if you are a loner. In some ways, the fire service of today almost enables this to happen because of privacy enhancements that are being built in the newest fire stations (individual bathrooms, individual bedrooms, etc.). Many firefighters complain that those things have taken away from the team-concept and team-building environment, and I kind of agree in some respects. Regardless, on probation, remember there is a fine line between being too social and anti-social and with understanding your place as a member of the team.
15. Bad / poor attitude! It is very easy to let go of someone with a bad attitude; it is sometimes difficult to let someone go because of a positive / good attitude. I'll go miles to help someone that wants to be helped, someone that has a great positive attitude, someone that understands their weaknesses and is trying their best to improve, and someone that you can see is sincerely doing what it takes to succeed. However, I find it difficult to go out of my way to assist someone who needs help when they have a bad / poor attitude, when they think they know it all, when they don't see or feel that they are in need of improvement, or when they appear that they lack the motivation, drive, or perseverance to succeed. Can you blame me?
Realize that if you are not meeting the minimum standard or expectation level, even a great attitude can only go so far; you still have to perform.
Keeping a positive attitude, keeping your mouth closed (except when appropriate to ask pertinent questions) and keeping your eyes and ears open will go a long way to passing training and probation!
Special thanks go to Thomas Dominguez, Former Fire Captain, for initially putting these thoughts down during one of his Perfect Firefighter Candidate (www.firecareers.com) Bulletin Board posts.