Times they do a change.
When I was 1st introduced to the fire service I was in the 4th grade as our class had a field trip to the fire station. It was a short walk across the street from the school in a tract home that was fitted with a large garage to house the fire engine. Except for the garage and the flagpole out front it blended in well. I’d like to say how I remembered the fire engine and equipment, but my major memory was of the ice cream sandwiches they gave us at the end of the tour. My second encounter was quite different, about a year later a friend and I were flicking matches into the dry grass area in a local park. We would stomp the fire out, laugh and move to another area and repeat. We were tough dudes. Of course when we turned around on the trail to return one of our stomped out fires was ripping pretty good. We ran over and tried to stomp the edges with no luck. I took off my fairly new jacket, soaked it in the creek and beat the fire edges with it. By now the smoke cloud that formed caused a crowd to stand and watch. They of course were in our line of escape. We stayed till the fire crew arrived and put out the fire (probably about 2 1/2 acres) then faced the music of the officer (B.C.) Who loaded us in his pickup truck and delivered us home to our parents. Not a real happy experience along with being grounded the rest of the summer. Guess it could count as my first brush fire:)
Fast forward >>>>>>13 years when my brother calls needing a ride to the local office for the states forestry service to pick up an application. I take him there and the lady asks if I would like an application too. Bottom line I test and receive a job offer due to my high score with veteran points (my brother didn’t make the cut off). So right off the street I report to my first assignment at a local airport station (the county where I worked contracted for local fire service with the forestry). Huge crash rigs, loud claxtons ringing, gamewell alarms, 24 hour alarm watch duty and about 18 firefighters on duty working 84 hours a week. I had hit the mother lode…$533.00 a month! It was a pay loss for me from my last job but I was burned out in a low manager position and was ready for a change.
I got to see many changes in the fire service through various employers. Most change came about in the line of safety (usually brought on by some unfortunate tragedy) and a lot were fought for by our employee group and eventually our union. The educational requirements jumped tremendously as new areas of responsibility were piled on the fire service. First came specialty fires (oil, aircraft, propane, industrial, wildland etc.) then ambulance service (as EMT’s), then paramedics, then auto extrication, then came fire inspections of business, public education programs, dive teams, hazardous materials teams, swift water rescue, urban search and rescue and terrorism response. Just to mention a few.
Each specialty was multi-layered ranging from first responder rating to specialist. Each layer had minimum certitications and on going education to keep current. It was always a challange to become better equipted with knowledge, new tools and experience.
I saw the changes in requirements to be able to get a firefighter job both increase (education wise) then decrease (agility wise). The traditional method of progressing through the ranks put to the side of the road as promotional exams allowed those good at tests to leap frog over rank structure. It was always my theory that a manager should be able to perform each job of those they supervise. In an emergency that knowledge could save crews lives.
Also the public view of a firefighter evolved as many tragedies were faced, so many in such a short period of time. From earthquakes, hurricanes, riots, floods, major wildland fires destroying neighborhoods, terrorist attacks, the Oklahoma bombing, mass shootings and more, the firefighters held hero status for doing the job they were paid and signed up to do. I saw times when citizens begged us to let them buy us lunch or restaurants invited us for free meals (all as a thank you for a job well done) It didn’t matter that I may not have had anything to do with that particular incident, the out pouring was amazing. This hero image has attracted many who unfortunately appear to be more interested in the image of the uniform they wear then the job.
But the large majority appear to be in it for the long haul, making the best of a persons worst day and providing the best care and comfort for the situation or doing the best job you can with your knowledge, tools, team and experience. So a tip of my hat to you, and you will know who you are in spite of your denial to others.