Well, ok. So by now you know that ‘ole Sledge’s first big break to present at a major training conference will have to wait for a while. Unfortunately the Gateway Midwest Fire & Leadership Conference that was sponsored by Go>Forward Fire Training had to be cancelled due to a lack of registration. Don’t worry, I won’t take it personal-like. I know no one wanted to waste their time with guys like Sendlebach, Brunacini and those Mitchell and Statter guys. It’s just unfortunate that they had to suffer because you guys and gals that did register only wanted to come see me <sorrowful sigh>. In all seriousness, it is unfortunate the event had to be cancelled but I get that it’s a business and there are certain margins that need to be met. I know that Go>Forward’s new inaugural event in King of Prussia, PA. will be a huge success and set the stage for all the events in the future. Hopefully I can still be a part of something in the future. But for now, I did make two promises to those of you that waste their time reading my smack when I wrote the post announcing that I would be presenting at the conference. First and foremost I promised a class. I was to present a class I have developed called, “Selling Out to the Fire Service”. A class designed for the new guy all the way up to the Chief about why we got into this business, why we should be in this business and the commitment we all need to make to this business. Secondly, I promised that my Hallway Sledge persona would be killed-off and I would resurrect as my true-self. So let’s get down to business.
So some of you who checked out Go>Forward’s site advertising the conference already know who I am from the instructor bio page, so this may be a little anti-climactic. For those of you who still do not know… my name is Chris Sterricker and I am a full-time Firefighter/Paramedic in the Chicago suburbs. I am married to a wonderful and understanding woman and together we have two young daughters. I’m in my 18th year in the fire service, starting out as a paid-on-call firefighter and eventually getting hired full-time. I started this blog out of frustration over things I saw going on in our beloved profession and as a form of cheap therapy. It felt good to get stuff off my chest and to write about things I thought needed to be discussed. I really never foresaw the amount of success I’ve been blessed with in regards to this site. So I sincerely say thank you to everyone who checks it out.
Now, about that class. I obviously can’t give you something designed for two hours in a blog-post so what I’m going to do is give you the Cliff’s Notes version. I’ll try to hit the high-points and generate some discussion, which is, as always, encouraged.
Since I already took care of the intro part I’ll skip to the chase. What was this class going to be about? Well, in a nutshell, why are you a firefighter? Do you want to wear the super-cool t-shirts and have a built-in pick-up line, or do you really want to sell yourself out to a noble and important profession that requires much more than just a casual dedication? Are you looking for a fraternity and drinking buddies or do you want a true brotherhood (or sisterhood) and guys that’ll drop everything to give you a hand when you or your family needs one? Only you can make that decision and only you will know if you’re BS’ing yourself, but I guarantee others will see right through it.
So after I got done challenging everyone my next point was going to be that this job is just too important to not dedicate yourself fully to it. Important on a couple different levels. The first and most important level is to yourself and your family. The fireground, accident scene, haz-mat incident or any other of the multitude of calls we answer can be very dangerous places even if you are hanging back trying not to get involved. Don’t you owe it to yourself and those that love and care about you to know what the heck you’re doing? To keep up on new trends and techniques? New information? Seek and attend good, solid training? Think about the knock at the door your significant other will get after you decided that dousing the stack of pallets in the shipping container that is your “training tower” in diesel fuel and then throwing in the fusee resulted in you being admitted to the burn unit, or worse. Dedicated professionals do not do those kinds of things. Smart, trained firefighters do not do those kinds of things.
Secondly, you owe it to those that you work alongside and who depend on you. All the same reasons apply. How would you feel if your actions, or lack-thereof, resulted in the injury or death of another firefighter? Imagine their family and friends and the pain and grief they would experience because of the death of their loved one. I have known many firefighters over the years who lacked basic skills and training as well as any motivation to know and get better at their job. Many of these guys had an attitude that being a weak firefighter didn’t matter, didn’t have any ramifications, because there were always other people around to pick up their slack. Someone else who knew what they were doing or how to operate that tool. Until the day came when they were forced into a situation where they had to perform and couldn’t. It’s not fair to the other guys and gals around you, period.
Thirdly, it’s not fair to “Mrs. Smith”. Mrs. Smith represents every person you and I have sworn to protect and who counts on us to know what to do and have the ability to perform when the worst day of their lives comes calling. Mrs. Smith doesn’t care if you receive pay check or not. Mrs. Smith doesn’t care if you belong to a Union or not. Mrs. Smith doesn’t care that your department only responds to 100 or so calls a year. Mrs. Smith expects that when she calls 911 she will receive the same level of service living in her 100 year-old farmhouse in East Fork Little River as she would in her brand new condo in downtown Chicago. Now don’t get me wrong. Capabilities and training are two different things. East Fork might only have 5 or 6 people available to respond, whereas in Chicago that’s one company. The capabilities of the two departments are vastly different. But, East Fork better have been proactive in setting up Mutual Aid agreements knowing that they have staffing challenges. That’s a totally separate issue from those same 5 or 6 East Fork FD guys showing up and not having good, solid training and job knowledge. There is no reason in the world, in my opinion, that hose East Fork guys cannot be equally trained as any other firefighters in the country. Perhaps it’s naive of me to think that. Perhaps it’s brash and outlandish for me to expect, but that’s how I feel.
A trend I have noticed over the last few years is that Mrs. Smith doesn’t matter so much anymore. We matter more than she does. We matter more than her property does. We matter more than the oath we all took in one form or another when we started. I have actually heard statements made to the effect of, “We can’t do VES. That’s way above us.” Or, “We only search after the fire is out. It’s too dangerous otherwise.” Or, “If we have more than just one room involved or if we have really heavy smoke we go defensive. We can’t handle anything bigger.” What?!?! But somehow some ideas that are not too far off from these statements have taken hold of the fire service lately and made it ok to not go inside. Ok to write-off Mrs. Smith as soon as we pull up. Ok to really not make much effort at all to stop property loss. “…to guard my every neighbor and protect his property.” Isn’t that how the prayer goes? The Fireman’s Prayer? Again, if you’ve read any of my posts for a while you know I do not advocate throwing our lives away. I do advocate and believe in doing our job fully, safely and effectively. Especially in a time when we are under attack from politicians and our citizens alike. So, did you get into this job to actually do the job? Did you get into this job to risk your life so that someone else might live? Or did you just get on to show up at the fire and get your picture taken, or to take pictures? Did you get into the job to do the job or to give back to your community, or the community you work in, or did you just want to ride in the 4th of July parade? Did you get into this job because you believe in the oath and the prayer or because you wanted a pay check and time off? It’s time to decide.
So that’s a quick overview of what I was going to talk about and challenge the attendees with. Maybe it got some of you thinking. Maybe it made you angry when you read some of my statements. I’m ok with that. Evaluate your career honestly and look at yourself. Have you done everything to make yourself the best firefighter you can? Do you continue to do so? Do you train up others that you work with? Have you sold out to the fire service?
Be safe, train hard.