Congratulations, you just landed the best job in the world! Your first year on the job is going to be stressful, but if you embrace this stress by staying engaged in your training (and by adhering to a bit of firehouse etiquette), your first year will reward you tenfold!
So, what is firehouse etiquette all about?
First, play the game – meaning be the probie that you are. Do what you must do (work your tail off) to make it through your probationary year. Know that you will be the first one up in the morning and the last one to bed at night. You will be the last one to serve yourself at the table and the first one to clean up everything afterwards. Whether you know it or not, you’re getting tattooed – not in a literal sense, of course – but during your first year you are being labeled as a below grade, average, or exceptional firefighter by everyone you interact with. Much like a tattoo, it will stick with you for your entire career.
Firehouse etiquette dictates we do some simple things daily to ensure success. Here is a list of some of the easiest ways you can make a good impression on your coworkers.
1. Show up early
When coworkers joke with me about arriving to work or training early, I tend to acknowledge that I’ll be the first one to my own funeral. Both are actually true… and showing up to shift early just makes good sense.
One of the most important actions that takes place at shift change is the pass-on, and because you have smartly budgeted a bit of extra time to receive this important information from the outgoing shift, you decrease the chance that a critical piece of information will be rushed over or forgotten.
In addition, if the outgoing shift pops a call close to shift change, no problem. Since you arrived early and your gear is now in place, you can take that call and let the individual you are relieving go home. This is not only common firehouse courtesy, but it’s also an action that builds camaraderie, trust and respect.
2. Dress for success
Look professional because you are a professional! Ensure that your boots are polished, you are clean shaven to regulation, and your hair is combed.
You won’t always feel your best at the start of every shift; but by projecting a clean, professional appearance, the citizens that you serve will never pick up on this.
3. Introduce yourself
Whether it’s day one of your career or you are simply working at a different station with a crew that is unfamiliar to you… introduce yourself. Find out who you are working with and start the shift off on the right foot. Remember, you never get a second chance to make a great first impression.
4. Get to know the people you work with
Getting to know those you work with makes all the difference in the world. You can be part of a close-knit crew or family or you can simply occupy the same space. Believe me I’ve seen both and you definitely want to be a part of the former.
A close-knit crew knows each other’s strengths and weaknesses, which in turn creates a smooth and efficient machine. You may have heard the term ‘Brotherhood’ by now and this is where it starts. True ‘Brotherhood’ does exist and you will know it when you encounter it because those are the individuals who have your six, regardless of the circumstances.
Daily interaction at the firehouse and on shift!
Next, God gave you two ears and one mouth for a reason. Listen twice as much as you talk. Be a sponge and soak up everything from your senior members. The senior members of your crew have all been where you are, so it’s not like your probie position is something brand new to any of them. Ask questions when appropriate and ask for clarification if you don’t understand something.
Your company officer’s main job outside of making sure that you go home to your family at the end of the shift is to train their crew members to someday take over their job. As much as your company officer or engineer would love to stay on the job forever, they can’t. Your superiors must pass on their knowledge nuggets and skills to YOU!
The goal is to one day be a leader within your organization, and it begins on day one. Someday you will do the same for your own Probie. This is all part of firehouse tradition and the fire service life cycle.
A firefighter’s core values
Finally, be the type of firefighter that you would want to show up at your front door to care for your family and mitigate their emergency. Have a high level of integrity, service before self, and be excellent in everything that you do. These three core values have worked for the United States Air Force for decades and they apply to the fire service just as well. Be steadfast to these values and you will build a career that you can be proud of, while gaining respect within your organization as well as with other departments that you will undoubtedly work alongside.
Enjoy what you’ve been blessed with because your time within the fire service will fly by!