If you pay attention to pop culture and social media trends, it’s hard to escape one of the newest viral sensations – the “OK boomer” memes, videos and hashtags.
OK boomer has become a rallying cry for Generation Z, a verbal eye roll to the baby boomers bemoaning younger generations. The meme has gained so much traction that a headline from The New York Times declared the movement as marking “the end of friendly generational relations.”
But what’s really going on here?
It seems that both sides are using "OK boomer" to push their own narrative. While the younger generation is using the meme to strike back at older generations for not giving them the credit and respect they feel they deserve, the boomers see the meme as disrespectful and evidence of age discrimination.
Regardless of your stance on the movement, it highlights a similar conflict over knowledge, experience and respect in the fire service.
Fire service generational conflict
If you’ve spent any time in a firehouse, you’ve inevitably heard older firefighters lament the newer, younger generation of firefighters as soft, entitled and ignorant. On the flip side, many younger firefighters went through a much more strenuous hiring process than that of their predecessors. They had to pass a fitness test, written test, background check, drug test, multiple interviews and perhaps even a polygraph.
To the younger generation of firefighters, maybe it’s time to look in the mirror to see if you fit the stereotype – and take action to ensure your behavior does not come across as entitled or disrespectful.
And to the older generation of firefighters, maybe it’s time you pay a little more respect to the younger generation. Give them credit for having to jump through far more hoops than you did when you were first hired. Who knows, they may even have something to teach you. After all, the expression “we’ve always done it this way” may be the most lethal expression in the fire service.
Clearly, there’s some respect to be doled out each direction. But let me propose a more fire service-focused solution.
Younger firefighters lead the training
What if firehouses around the country gave younger firefighters the opportunity to lead training and protocol review sessions to teach older firefighters what they know? This would accomplish a few things:
- It would give the veteran firefighters an opportunity to refresh their knowledge on what they already know, and potentially learn something new. While this does require one to swallow their pride, nobody has ever been hurt from knowing too much, while the opposite is certainly true.
- It gives younger crewmembers the opportunity to reinforce what they do know and expand on what they don’t. This gives veteran firefighters and officers the opportunity to identify their younger crewmembers’ weaknesses in an environment that won’t get anyone hurt or killed.
- This also provides a great opportunity for the veterans and officers to lead in a constructive way and mold the younger generation into the types of firefighters their department needs.
- Finally, this gives both the younger and older generations of firefighters an opportunity to exchange information and integrate the newest techniques in fire science with the tried and true knowledge you only get through experience.
It’s all about perception
I recently read a quote by Morgan Housel that said, “Your personal experiences make up maybe 0.00000001% of what’s happened in the world but 80% of how you think the world works.”
I think it’s time that both younger and older generations of firefighters can learn something from one another to improve the fire service for all of us. So instead of making snappy OK boomer retorts or hurling blanket generation-focused accusations, perhaps it’s time to just get down to business and focus on the training.