The Fire Scene: Firefighting: "The Greatest Job"

In the weeks and months following 9/11, many unique and motivational phrases, bumper stickers and signs began appearing around New York City and in its firehouses. One in particular said, “FDNY Still the Greatest Job on Earth”. It was true before 9/11 and it remains true today.

But not just the FDNY. All of us who are fortunate enough to be a member of any fire department, career or volunteer, part time or full time, have the greatest job on earth. Let’s take a look at exactly what makes being a firefighter so great.

Dedication to the job

One trait you notice immediately about firefighters is their great dedication. They are dedicated to the work they are there to perform. They have a connection to their work that few other people display. It is a priority in their lives and they pour themselves into their work and their duties. Firefighters are also dedicated to their fellow firefighters and their firehouse or company. They share a common denominator with their fellow firefighters and they all work and play and train as one. Firefighting is not what firefighters do; it is who they are.

The next great feature of firefighting is effort. With very few exceptions, I have never seen anyone put in the effort that firefighters put into their work. I have worked at multiple-alarm fires where companies completed task after task after task and did so with great zeal. I have seen firefighters start CPR on a rescued civilian at a fire or a severely injured child at a car accident and literally work until they dropped. This great effort is not limited to emergency activities. During our annual inspection work, or even repairing a tool on the apparatus, I have witnessed firefighters work for several hours on the apparatus floor to repair something rather than send it to the shops for replacement. Watching anyone put in a great effort is inspirational.

Satisfaction is another benefit of the greatest job. I know people in all walks of life and in many types of work that feel satisfaction when a job is well done. I feel it myself when completing a chore around my house or elsewhere. But nothing compares to the level of satisfaction that firefighters feel after a good “job”. The more challenging and the more difficult, the higher the level of satisfaction when it is over.

I can remember the feeling as a young firefighter in 11 Truck when I was able to quickly and correctly force a door and make a search at a working fire. I can also remember the satisfaction I would see in the face of a firefighter who made a rescue at a serious fire. This feeling of satisfaction is hard to measure, but you sure know when it’s there, and nothing feels quite as good as satisfaction.

Skills and abilities are more elements of the greatest job on earth. The work we all do is vital to the survival of our communities and our customers and can only be successful when the firefighters performing them have properly developed skills and abilities. Every firefighter needs to know how to advance a hoseline, force a door, start and operate a power saw, use an extrication tool, raise an aerial ladder, use a self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA), deploy a search rope, rappel from a rooftop, perform CPR, inspect a building, use an extinguisher, tie a knot, climb a portable ladder and the list goes on and on. Skills and abilities are our greatest tool to do our job.

Sacrifice is the last of the elements of the greatest job. To sacrifice is to give and firefighters are well known for their sacrifices. The typical firefighter spends a lot more time at the firehouse than is expected or required. Enjoying the work and their fellow firefighters makes this easy to do, but is there a cost? Yes, they often sacrifice time they could be spending with their families to spend more time at the firehouse. Firefighters also sacrifice for charity. They participate in fundraising campaigns for national events and they give both their time and money to these great causes.

Of course, we cannot say the word sacrifice without acknowledging that firefighters also give their lives in the discharge of their duties. It is not a designed outcome, but instead a tragic turn of events that results in sacrifice. The sacrifice is not a conscious decision at the moment it occurs, but rather a decision made years earlier to engage in work that could be dangerous or even deadly.

Firefighting is truly the greatest job on earth! n


John J. Salka Jr. presents “You Are Not In the Front Seat to Beep the Horn” at Firehouse World 2014.