Updated July 7, 2017
Before you make the commitment to put countless hours of preparation, energy, money and effort into becoming a firefighter, realize what you are getting yourself into. Whether you are just getting started or far along in the process, you may still have a few things to learn about the career you are pursuing.
What a firefighter does in one fire department may slightly or drastically differ from what a firefighter does in another fire department in the nearby vicinity or across the country. If you watch television, it is common to see firefighters sitting around the kitchen table, joking and having fun, and maybe even watching television or sleeping, during the day time.
Rarely do you see firefighters portrayed as doing busy work, or doing productive work, such as actual pre-fire planning – and that does not mean going shopping; it means actually walking through existing occupancies or buildings under construction to learn how they are constructed and analyze how they would mitigate an emergency.
Rarely do you see television firefighters performing company fire prevention inspections; creating and updating pre-fire plans; engaging in fire/rescue training; doing physical fitness training; or just maintaining their fire station, apparatus, tools and equipment.
So, if you watch a television show, news story or even a movie depicting firefighters, how do you usually see us portrayed? In my experience, it is one of two ways: we are either on the job at a working incident or we are back at the station either preparing a meal or killing time waiting to get toned out for the next run.
This isn't bad, but it is an unrealistic portrayal of what a firefighter does in many departments. In some departments, that is the routine; go on a call or wait for the next call to come.
Yes, there may be a little housework completed, and a rig check here or there, but is the crew spending a couple of hours a day training, and doing what it takes to be the best they can be? I'll let you make that call.
It would open a lot of people's eyes, including the eyes of future firefighters, if they realized that a firefighter may do more things than just run calls and sit around the kitchen table waiting for the next run. It is amazing when fire departments hire firefighters, who suddenly hate running medical calls, or hate going out on Band-Aid calls, or hate doing public education details or company inspections, or whatever.
We have all heard some form of complaint (after someone got off probation of course), where a firefighter is not fond of doing a certain task, or even worse, pleads ignorant or states, "I didn't sign up to do ________," or "that is not in my job description."
Before any future firefighter determines this is the career for them, they must realize that they may be called upon on any given shift to do a number of different things, and even possess the necessary knowledge, skills and abilities to accomplish the following things at some point during their fire department career.
The department will formally teach you how to accomplish some of these things. However, for many of these things, you will be expected to know from life experience or learn on the job from other firefighters.
Requirements to be a firefighter?
Someone once said a firefighter needs to know about 42 different trades and careers to be a good firefighter. At first, that sounds unrealistic. But when you think about it, it is highly possible a firefighter can be called upon at a moment's notice to do any of the following trades, professions, jobs or careers as part of their daily routine on duty.
Here are those 42 skills a firefighter might be called upon to perform:
4. Social worker
6. Auto detailer
7. Auto repair person
12. Administrative assistant (secretary)
17. Police Officer
18. Service station attendant
20. Financial advisor
21. Truck driver
22. Facilities manager
23. Food server
25. Recreational coordinator
26. Career planner/advisor
27. Maintenance person (handyman)
29. Appliance repairperson
30. Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning repairperson
31. Tow truck driver
32. Customer service representative
33. Public educator
34. Public information provider
35. Computer technician
36. Television repair person
37. Fire prevention inspector
38. Fire investigator
39. Medical professional (first responder, EMT, paramedic)
40. Hazardous materials first responder
41. Rescue technician (basic or advanced)
42. Firefighter (oh, yes, on occasion, we are still asked to put out fires!)
Feel free to add your own to the list to educate others about what a firefighter really does. Take a deep look at what a firefighter does from the time they arrive at the firehouse to the time they leave the firehouse.
Whether or not they respond to a single call, they may still do many of the above items while on duty at the firehouse. Talk to most senior firefighters; they can provide examples of having to do a good majority (If not more) of those above mentioned items at some point in their career, obviously some more than others.
Firefighters: Jacks of all trades
Some people forget that we are the folks people call when they cannot figure out what to do, or more commonly, cannot afford to call a repair person, especially at three o'clock in the morning on a holiday.
While they may not want to pay triple time for a plumber to come to their house to stop the water flowing from a burst pipe, they have no problem calling 911 knowing we will come and at least stop the problem, with some thinking we may solve the problem. If nothing else, we will probably stop the immediate problem, and then direct them to who they need to contact to fully solve the problem.
If you haven't figured it out by now, we don't just save lives and property anymore; we are truly jacks of all trades. And we must be masters at our profession and the core expectations of what we are here for: serving our community, protecting lives and property and making a positive difference every day we are on duty.
If you do not embrace the challenges a firefighter faces every day (not the life-threatening or life-saving challenges, those are usually far and few), you will be frustrated and unhappy. Instead of getting angry with the folks who call 911 for our assistance, do your best to have patience, tolerance and most of all compassion for their current situation.
To you, it may be an unnecessary call; to them, it may be the emergency of a lifetime. More importantly though, we need to educate our future firefighters and let them know we don't just save lives and property, instead, we are here to help the people who pay our salaries, solve the problems they are faced with in a courteous and professional way, to ensure we leave them with the impression that they cannot live without us.