After graduating from the Ohio Fire Executive program, I developed a lecture for aspiring and newly promoted fire officers and still present it from time to time. I mean, my time in the fire service may be coming to an end within ten years. Well, potentially five years, but since I still feel and act like I’m 27 years old, I don’t know if I’m ready to wrap it up so quickly. Besides, I still can’t make up my mind about my dream retirement job. The current choices are between Fish Taco Vendor in Key West and the Italian Ice beach-cart pusher at Ocean Isle Beach. Whichever I pick, I still have a fulfilling retirement career.
Anyway, while I’m still here and active, I figured why leave with all of that valuable information accumulated over the past 23 years? I want to make sure that it’s all passed on to the young ones who will be potential servant leaders in the future.
I’m not going to bore you with the content of the 51 prior PowerPoint slides in the presentation, but if you like reading about Abraham Mazlow, Blake & Mouton and really cool X, Y and Z theories, just go to my LinkedIn page and view the presentation. Instead, I want to describe the very last slide; a very familiar excerpt from famed author Robert Fulghum entitled All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.
I remember the first time I was reintroduced to this passage (first published in 1986) about six years ago and I was amazed by the correlation between kindergartners and firefighters (Oh, I’m sure the cops out there are rolling in laughter, but read on).
*1. Share Everything.
Firefighters not only have to share living quarters, but they also share vehicles, rescue equipment and other tools of the trade. Heck, we even share our candy and cookies with each other too!
*2. Play Fair.
One of the main tenets of firefighters is that they want to be treated fairly amongst the group and their peers. This rule also comes in handy during down-time while playing any sport, board game, or a practical joke (be prepared for equal retribution).
*3. Don't Hit People.
Living with the same people for 24 hours is like being cooped up with your siblings from time to time. As much as you want to give a noogie or slap someone on the back of the head, decorum, ethics and federal law frown upon this. Suck it up and go have some ice cream to cool down!
*4. Put Things Back Where You Found Them.
Not typically a problem with equipment on the vehicles because there’s a dedicated space for everything and it’s all checked every morning, but sometimes trying to find a lid to the sauce pan is like being on an Easter egg hunt!
*5. Clean Up Your Own Mess.
We have no problem helping each other out after a call, doing the daily cleaning chores around the station or cleaning up after dinner, but once in a while you’ll get that one guy who will leave his ice cream bowl or coffee mug lying around. Those items can sometimes end up in their locker, still dirty.
*6. Don't take things that aren't yours.
Nobody likes a thief, whether it be inside the station or out on a call. We’ve never had a problem with this in our organization and I’m convinced that we never will because our members are trustworthy to the point of our lives and property and your lives and property. However, this rule does not apply to the refrigerator if you don’t put your name the food item. No name? Free game! Can’t tell you how many times people regretted not marking their leftovers. I have a personalized thermo bag that has “Steve’s Lunch” embroidered on it. Live and learn.
*7. Say You're Sorry When You Hurt Somebody.
I once heard a lecturer say “you firefighters eat your own.” Now in her defense, she was not a firefighter, but an English professor. I guess she spent too much time listening to stories of our shenanigans and totally misconstrued them. We just love a good joke and to joke around with our shift mates, but there’s also decorum for this as well. Boys and girls sometimes fight like cats and dogs. At the end of a debate or disagreement, both sides come together and don’t leave the firehouse angry. But if a particular individual is really bothered by, let’s say…clowns and a joke gets them going, we remember to repeat it in the future.
*8. Wash Your Hands Before You Eat.
Heck, we’re all obsessed with this one. We wash our hands after opening doors. We have so many hand sanitizers mounted throughout the stations that it’s sometimes impossible to walk 20 feet without passing one. It’s a good habit to have since we don’t want to pass along any germs from ourselves and calls to our coworkers or patients, and we certainly don’t want to take them home!
Yeah…we have labels on the stalls for that. Some boys still need a reminder!
*10. Warm Cookies and Cold Milk are Good for You.
Nuff said. .We love cookies and ice cream…even for breakfast. Better put your name on it!
*11. Live a Balanced Life - Learn Some and Drink Some and Draw Some and Paint Some and Sing and Dance and Play and Work Everyday Some.
Check. Check. Check. Check. Check. Check. Check…and Check! We constantly train at work and before the shift starts, we share our morning beverages around the table at roll call. We have some great artists at work and I think every one of us has used their artistic abilities to draw maps, scene diagrams or a building layout for a preplan. As far as the singing and dancing goes: do both like nobody is listening or watching…but we are!
*12. Take a Nap Every Afternoon.
We get an hour to eat lunch. 15 minutes to consume food and the remaining 45 to catch up on some winks. Not everybody partakes in this, but yours truly certainly does. I may feel and act like I’m 27, but my body sometimes reminds me otherwise!
*13. When you Go Out into the World, Watch out for Traffic, Hold Hands, and Stick Together.
Well, perhaps aside from the holding hands part, this is a rule. We frequently find ourselves smack dab in the middle of a busy intersection, state routes and interstate highways. Many emergency responders are killed or injured out on the roadways each year and we really look out for each other when we’re out there. Not much scares me more than an inattentive driver speeding by our emergency scene and nowadays they’re texting or either on the phone.
*14. Be Aware of Wonder. Remember the Little Seed in the Stryrofoam Cup: The Roots Go Down and the Plant Goes Up and Nobody Really Knows How or Why, But We are All Like That.
We are constantly amazed by the science of fire and its affect on different type of structures, and in varying scenarios. We have to understand the physics of what we do when we’re taking a car apart and we’re in awe of the advancing medical technologies that we see year after year. In the “old days” we used to just put the wet stuff on the red stuff, but now there are so many variables that we have be conscious of, so as not to further escalate the fire and endanger the occupants or ourselves. We are saving many more lives in the field with progress that we’ve seen in the drugs and medical technologies that are now available to us. I can’t imagine what’s next, but I’m already excited about it!
*15. Goldfish and Hamster and White Mice and Even the Little Seed in the Styrofoam Cup – They All Die. So do We.
We’re keenly aware of the inherent dangers of our career and even life itself. We’ve experienced tragedy within our fire organization, within our city organization and of course, on calls where we were summoned to help, but couldn’t. People have asked if it ever bothers me, and although I play it off as part of the job, it does bother me.
*16. And Then Remember the Dick-and-Jane Books and the First Word you Learned - the Biggest Word of All - LOOK.”
We not only look out for the people and community that we serve, but we look out for each other too.
Now, about those warm cookies and milk...