25 Commandments of an Awesome Firefighter

April 12, 2017
Steve Prziborowski shares 25 tips to help firefighters and fire officers become the best workers and colleagues possible.

I didn't want to offer this as a New Year’s Resolution because most of those resolutions never seem to last that long. My goal is to pass along this information as a good reminder and something that is ingrained into your daily behavior if you are a firefighter. If you are a fire officer, these may be helpful expectations you may consider sharing with your personnel.

In 2017 and beyond, as a firefighter, in order to be the best subordinate I can for my supervisor, the best follower for my leader, the best teammate for my co-workers, the best employee for the fire department and jurisdiction that took a chance on me by hiring me and who I have entered into an employment contract with (which is a two-way street—they pay you a fair wage and offer reasonable benefits and you have the right to go elsewhere if you feel you can get better somewhere else; in return you are expected to do your job to the best of your abilities and perform the required duties and responsibilities of the position), and most importantly, do what I can to ensure I go home safely at the end of my shift so that I can see my family and friends, and eventually have a long and healthy retirement, I promise to do the following in no specific order.

Thou shalt….

  1. Always be on time for the start of my shift. If my shift starts at 8:00 a.m. I will ensure I am there well before, so that I can take the time to get my personal protective equipment (PPE) staged near my spot on the apparatus, so that I am prepared to take a response at the start of the shift, or before the start of the shift so that the person I am replacing can go home and not be held over the end of their shift. I will remember the saying: “If I’m early, I’m on time; if I’m on time, I’m late; and if I’m late, I better not show up unless I have called my supervisor to advise them of my tardiness, and unless I have asked someone to hold over for me (of which I’ll be forever grateful for and apologize profusely for since I’ve inconvenienced them).”
  2. Get the appropriate pass-on from the person I am replacing. I need to know the types of responses they went on so I can ensure the apparatus, tools and equipment are all back in working order and ready for the start of our shift. If I know they went on a car fire, I will make sure to double-check the level of water in the tank. It’s not that I distrust them, but as they old saying goes, “trust but verify” because in the course of your career, there will be at least one time something on the apparatus was not replaced, cleaned or repaired after use, resulting in a potentially embarrassing or catastrophic situation.
  3. Actually check out my self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) every shift, as well as my PPE, as well as the tools and equipment that are on the apparatus. I will check them in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendations and the department’s recommendations. If I don’t know what those recommendations are, I will look them up.
  4. Always wear my full, appropriate PPE when needed. Nobody should ever have to tell me to put on my SCBA, wear my turnouts, wear my hood, wear my gloves, wear my OSHA-approved eye protection, etc.
  5. Never bring my PPE into the clean areas of the firehouse. This means my PPE will remain in the apparatus bays or other approved storage areas so that I do not contaminate myself or my brother or sister firefighters.
  6. Clean/decontaminate my PPE after every response as appropriate. I will also not wear dirty PPE as a sign of courage or badge of honor. I understand I may be laughed at by some traditionalists, or be called names that some would never call their mother or grandmother, but that is ok. My health and welfare is paramount and trumps tradition or looking cool. Plus, I need to lead by example and not be sucked into group-think.
  7. Not tolerate dirty PPE from my co-workers, or even my officer, knowing the hazards that dirty PPE can harbor. This means I may have to prompt for success my co-workers or potentially even my supervisors, to encourage them to not wear their dirty PPE around not just me, but themselves and their co-workers.
  8. Know how to operate and maintain every tool and piece of equipment on our apparatus (even the reserve apparatus or other apparatus at our station that I may not even be assigned to), so that I don’t look stupid should my supervisor call on me to use those tools or pieces of equipment in the heat of the battle.
  9. Know how to operate the apparatus, even if I am not the assigned driver. I will take the time to have the driver train me how to operate the lights, the pump, as well as anything that is unique to that apparatus so that I can assist the driver if needed, especially in an emergency. Plus, if I am ever promoted or assigned as the driver, I will have started my training early in my career so that I am more successful in the future.
  10. Perform the entire Department of Motor Vehicles daily pre-check inspection, and not just go through the motions or take short cuts if I am the assigned driver. I will not just straight line (draw a vertical line from the first to last item on the page) the daily checkout, and actually perform each item completely and to the best of my ability.
  11. Keep my cell phone on vibrate during the day and not let it be a distraction to our crew continuity and to my job as a whole. Furthermore, I will never pull out my cell phone during a response, or take pictures or videos, without your permission.
  12. Follow all of our Rules and Regulations, Policies and Procedures, Standard Operating Procedures, and any other written directions provided by our fire chief and department, whether I agree or disagree with them. If I disagree with one of those written documented items, I will follow the appropriate procedure to see if it can be updated and improved upon, as opposed to just complaining or disregarding them.
  13. Ask questions when I do not know something. However, before I ask my officer most questions, I will do my own research, including asking the other firefighters. When I come to you—my officer—you will know that I have exhausted all of my resources. I say most questions, because when we are in the heat of the battle, and we do not have the time or ability for me to do my own research, if I need clarification or direction before I perform what it is you expect of me, there may be a time for me to ask you a clarifying question to ensure we are both on the same page.
  14. Be a self-starter and not have to have my officer tell me to do the basic things we do every day, such as check out our apparatus and equipment, maintain our tools, equipment and apparatus, and maintain our firehouse and grounds.
  15. Not be lazy or let complacency get the best of me.
  16. Not be retired in place, even if I have a retirement date in the very near future.
  17. Do my job, do it well, and do it to the best of my ability.
  18. Not allow mediocrity, incompetence or ignorance ever get the best of me.
  19. Never put my officer or any of my crewmembers in a difficult situation, or a situation they will have to bail me out of.
  20. Not say no when my officer asks me to do something, even if I do not want to do it or don’t want to do it at this point in time. Now there is one exception: if I feel it is an imminent life-threatening situation that may kill or injure me or put me or others into a situation that may kill or injure them, I will make sure I let my officer know exactly what it is that bothers me or that I am seeing that makes me want to say no. While I fully understand my officer will never put me in harm’s way, I realize there is always the potential that they are not seeing the complete, 100 percent picture.
  21. Always be ready for when my officer wants to test my knowledge, skills and/or abilities. I will know myself, my apparatus, my tools and equipment, my department, my community and my fire service to the best of my ability, and never stop learning.
  22. Learn the streets in our first-due area, as well as the major target hazards and other unique things that may challenge us on a response, and not rely on our map books or smartphones or other devices to get us to a call. When all of those items fail (they will), it falls back to us knowing our area.
  23. Learn the major streets throughout the rest of our jurisdiction since I know at some point, we will be responding or going to other areas of our jurisdiction, not just our first-due area.
  24. Know the locations of all of our firehouses. The last thing I want to do is be behind the wheel when we are dispatched for a move-up to another station and I have to ask my officer, “Where is station 3 again?” That’s embarrassing.
  25. Learn the names and faces of as many personnel on the department as I can. This includes not just the others who work at our firehouses, but those who serve on a 40-hour assignment at the administrative offices, and especially those civilian personnel who are not sworn firefighters. It’s not you against them. Those 40-hour civilians, who may work in your benefits department, human resources department, payroll department, etc., may be of major benefit to you or your family at some point of your career. The sooner you can put names to faces the better. The last thing you want to do is have an emergency and not know who to call, or even worse, try to have someone who has never met you help you for the first time. While you’re at it, if you don’t do so already, take the time to bring those who work in your administrative offices some coffee, some food, or maybe even a card recognizing a special event or occasion. It’s nice to have relationships built and maintained PRIOR to having to need them, and you will need them at some point of your career. I’m very proud that a good majority of our firehouse personnel regularly visit some of our 40-hour civilians at our administrative offices to say, bring them coffee, or even stay in touch on Facebook and let them feel part of the entire team out on the streets.

Commandments 26-50 of an Awesome Firefighter and Commandments 51-75 of an Awesome Firefighter.


Glen E. Ellman/FortWorthFire.net
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Glen E. Ellman/FortWorthFire.net
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