On November 9, Saint Paul Fire will commence a 13-week firefighting academy for 20 new firefighter recruits hired under a federal grant called SAFER (Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response). I will join those 20 men in that academy as a rookie firefighter and one of their classmates.
When I was appointed to the Fire Chief's job 2 years ago, I made my intentions know: at some point I wanted to attend and complete the academy "as a recruit." Although not a requirement of the Fire Chief's job, I felt - and still do - that certification as a Saint Paul firefighter is an essential part of my job. I served as a volunteer firefighter in the Grand Lake Volunteer Fire Department (Twig, MN) and the Forest Bend VFD (Webster, TX) over 20 years ago, but the training, staffing, and equipment in those departments - and the operational work in those communities - is vastly different than in Saint Paul. I want to upgrade my experience and skills, and I want to do it "the Saint Paul way."
Fundamentally, I believe that all members of the Saint Paul Fire Department's uniformed division must share a common bond - a common culture - and a shared base of experience and perspective. We all must be confident in each member's ability to operate safely and effectively on an incident scene or when representing our department to the public. It shouldn’t matter if we’re assigned to a hazardous materials team, an Advanced Life Support medic rig, or the Chief’s office – all of us should share the core competency and the shared experience of being first – and foremost – a firefighter.
The US Marines sum up a similar philosophy in a simple concept: "everyone's a rifleman." Simply put: no matter what an individual Marine's specialty might be, or where an individual Marine is assigned, they must be skilled in certain core competencies that all other Marines possess. It makes for a far stronger team when all other Marines can base their actions and beliefs on the shared experience of being - first and foremost - a rifleman.
So too in our organization. We collectively are "stronger" and "closer" if all of us share the unique bonding and indoctrination experience obtained by surviving the 13-week Fire Academy. All of us have been there...except for me. It is time to remedy that.....it is time for all of us to be - first and foremost - firefighters.
While attending the Fire Academy, I will also continue my responsibilities as Fire Chief. Doing both jobs will involve long hours and weekend work, but that is nothing new for me or previous Fire Chiefs. I am looking forward to the physical and academic challenge and the chance to bond with a group of new, enthused, strong recruits!
I will be recording some of my impressions about the academy on this web log. Perhaps my experience will help future firefighter candidates prepare for and succeed in their academy. I also want to give citizens a "behind the scenes" look at the demanding work involved in becoming a firefighter. Finally, for the firefighters who might be following my progress through the academy, this blog will – I hope – inject some humor into your day and bring a smile of recollection to your face as you see my challenges mirrored in the experiences you’ve faced and overcome to become Saint Paul Firefighters. So, please join me for future postings "on scene" from the Saint Paul Fire Academy!