What Veteran Firefighters Can Share with Newcomers
It’s been said that the for a veteran firefighter, the officer’s hand light is the heaviest tool you’ll ever pick up, because it represents the weight of responsibility that you must now be looking out not only for yourself, but for the others in your company. Whether you are a company officer or simply an experienced veteran with decades of knowledge under your belt, firefighters must remember it is their “sacred duty” to pass on information to the next generation of “new guys.”
The tricky part is that this can be easier said than done. In a world of formal training and certifications, it’s easy to think that newbies have all the information they need to be safe and successful. But as any firefighter can tell you, when you are staring down a massive fire on the field in real time, real-world experience and learned instincts make all the difference. Veteran firefighters should actively look for opportunities to share their own knowledge, much of which was most likely imparted to them by old timers that came before them.
Below are 5 practical ways that veterans and officers can help ensure that important knowledge is passed down to the next generation of firefighters.
Teach on the Fireground
Sure, the new firefighter next to you may have successfully completed his or her Firefighter 1 course, but when the most intense situations arise for them for the first time, your guidance can be invaluable. When you see that look of panic start to rise up in their eyes, take a second to reassure them. Take a moment in the staff meeting before a live burn to remind them of the most practical things for which they should be on the lookout. The tips you can impart to them in real-world situations will stick with them more than anything they’ve read in a textbook. Additionally, ensuring that your newbies are paired up with veterans during responses can encourage the flow of shared information; shadowing a more experienced firefighter is a practical way to reduce a newbie’s learning curve.
Schedule and Conduct Drills
Spending time on the drill field is another practical way to share valuable information between new recruits and veterans, allowing each to showcase skills or techniques in a controlled setting. Officers can also encourage responsibility in members of the department by allowing them to take an active role in planning and conducting the drills themselves. Once basic skills are mastered, drills can be an excellent way to push the team to the next level of development, increasing the difficulty levels of the drills, ensuring that the team is more prepared for real-world emergencies when they arise.
Remember, You Are Saving the Lives of Your Team
As a firefighter, it’s easy to remember your responsibility to the members of the public, as you run towards a burning apartment building, or strain to get a trapped driver out of a wrecked vehicle. It’s even easy to remember that you may be saving your buddy’s life on the fire ground, as you watch his or her back or help them navigate a dangerous setting. But you should also realize that the information and knowledge that you pass on to newer firefighters – even the smallest tip, the tiniest thing to watch out for, the small but valuable piece of advice to remember – may be the one thing that saves their lives years from today. Take every chance to explain something that might not be common sense; firefighters face countless different deadly situations with numerous changing variables. It’s impossible for one firefighter to ever experience every potential situation in his or her own career. By telling your own stories and sharing what you’ve learned may very well save your new firefighter’s life years from now when he or she comes across a deadly situation.
Help Your People Develop Professionally
Encourage your crew-members to proactively educate and build their knowledge through continuing education and certifications. It can be a challenge to “people manage” at time, but additional training not only helps maintain job satisfaction, but may be the key in saving a firefighter’s own life or the lives of others. Easy-to-use emergency personnel management software, created specifically for first responders and health care providers, can help you track everything for your department, from immunization records to state and federal requirements. Additionally, maintaining the information digitally makes it easy to report and analyze any gaps in training, or identify areas for improvement.
Make Time for Sit-Downs
Training doesn’t have to take place in a formal setting. Some of the most valuable and memorable conversations between veterans and younger firefighters may happen in the firehouse kitchen, on a drive around the response area, or in the downtime at the station. As a veteran, you should work to appear approachable to your newbies; try to leave time for conversations and take an interest in how they seem to be adjusting. Try to remember the ways that you yourself were influenced by your own mentors over the years of your career. Remember that you are the only ones who can truly instill the intangibles like the pride and brotherhood that make firefighting a one-of-a-kind calling.