Everything Is A Joke


If you don't like it, get out

I have been in the fire service for 31+ years and have friends, Brothers and Sisters from all over, from our first due mutual aid communities to overseas. There is one thing we all have in common besides the love of the job…. it seems we all have our malcontents.

To these firefighters, whether they are volunteer, paid on call or career, everything is a joke at the firehouse. They always put down their department, making statements such as  “the place is a joke run by jokers”, yet they do nothing and offer nothing  to help change things and actually prefer the status quo, because it is far easier to whine, complain, gripe, kvetch and bitch about problems than it is to work towards a solution to solve them.

When the training division sets up a schedule of drills to go over the basics the replies are “Do they think we are @#$%^&! probies?” or “What? They expect us to come in for training twice a month? I didn’t volunteer to do that!”

The captain in charge of the house mentions that one group isn’t keeping up with the housework, “Well, yesterday’s group forgot to empty one of the recycle bins, so  it can wait until they can come back on duty”.

The lieutenant wants to take her crew out for district familiarization because there is a new condo complex being built and she wants to see the materials being used in its construction, “She’s breaking our balls, doesn’t she know the ball game starts in an hour?”

The chief calls someone out about not wearing the uniform properly, “He’s being a jerk off”.

The deputy calls in the people on his group to deal with a few issues before it causes problems, “He’s picking on us again”.

The senior man on the company pulls the ‘know it all’ probie aside to give him some friendly advice, “What does he know? He never went through the academy like I did” or “When is that old bastard going to retire?”

Is wearing the uniform of the day properly or doing the simple things that are required in the station going to make someone a better firefighter? Probably not, but things have to start somewhere.  This is a job where you have to take things seriously. Sure there is time for laughs, good natured ribbing and down time, but anything we as firefighters do in this job is a direct reflection on not only our departments but the fire service in general.

Why train on the basics? Well, you just might pull up to a job and find someone hanging out of a window with heavy smoke pouring out behind them. The space between the building on fire and the next house is narrow and you’ll have to do a beam raise. You may be assigned to drive the pumper for the tour to cover a vacancy. Knowing how to engage the pump and knowing what nozzles and how many feet of hose are on the preconnected attack lines can help in setting proper pump pressures. Someone may know all of the layouts of the apartment buildings in their first due area, but what if they are dispatched to a district other than their own?  Getting everyone out of the dayroom and out learning their second or third due districts can help determine what line to stretch and how much line to stretch. Knowing the construction types can make the difference between everyone going home or leaving the fire scene in an ambulance or hearse.

You may or may not get along with everyone you work with, but when the bells start ringing and the alert tones go off, professionalism should not only expected but demanded. We preach brotherhood and sisterhood but it is high time that everyone practices it; in the firehouse and on the calls, not just at firefighter funerals.

If and when the day comes that your number is up and you are killed in the line of duty, the brothers and sisters right next to you may end up suffering the same fate.  I am sure that they do not want their name on a memorial plaque or t-shirt with someone who thought the job was a joke, never giving a crap about the job or their fellow firefighters.

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Ron Ayotte Ron Ayotte is one of four Deputy Fire Chiefs with the Marlborough Fire Department, Marlborough, Massachusetts. Ron began his career with the MFD in November of 1981, was promoted to Lieutenant in November of 1988, Promoted to Captain in August of 2000 and was promoted to Deputy Chief in 2006. Ron’s responsibilities at the MFD include incident command, communications, plans review, inspections and training. Ron also works per diem in the Support Services division at the Massachusetts Department of Fire Services/Massachusetts Firefighting Academy, working support for various Academy programs, including Recruit training, Call/Volunteer training, Certification and LNG-LPG firefighting training. Ron’s writings and musings can be seen at Chief Concerns.

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  • Dave LeBlanc says:

    A wise old fireman once told me "the worst thing they can make you do around here (the firehouse) is what you are supposed to be doing in the first place."

  • Rich Anderson says:

    Top notch piece Chief. You hit the nail(s) on the head

  • steve says:

    Well put Chief. But to say no one person has ever come in and not said something,directly or indirectly,negative would be a stretch.I have seen the best,highly trained and motivated guys on my job complain or loose it at one point or another either due to the higher ups,the councils,the citizens,budgets or other guys we work with.It's HOW you handle and turn that negative to a positive that counts.This is a great article and I will share it with the guys in my house.Thanks and stay safe lads

  • Ron Ayotte says:

    There will always be somebody who has a complaint… I think it is in the DNA of every firefighter!
    I've had what I prefer to call "differences of opinion" with my fellow firefighters, company officers and even my fellow Chief officers.

  • jay says:

    Never had those complaints. My complaints were that we did not train, or learn as much as we should be. It was the most frustrating thing. There are plenty of firefighters who want to better themselves who end up training or researching alone because the older more veteran crew has seen it or done it before. The culture gets sour when the younger generation picks up that attitude early in their career.

  • Matt Lund says:

    Well I agree with the basic principles of what you’re saying, I have a few points of contention. First, anyone who doesn’t want to do their job should just get a new job. There’s no place in the fire service for people who don’t want to do the job. There are a million people that would like to take their place. I would never complain about having to actually do my job.

    Secondly, I have deep roots in the fire department. I am a fourth generation fireman. I have an engineering degree from a prestigious University and left a nearly six-figure job become a firefighter. It pretty much defines my entire life. Anyone who knows me knows that I am deeply passionate about the fire department. I am a student of its history and also of methods of firefighting and rescue. I like to do fireman stuff all day long. Maybe I’m set up for failure because of my background, but I grew up with an idealized dream of the fire service Utopia.

    And don’t get me wrong, I have complained. My complaining has set some people who used to be my friends against me. I don’t want to continue to complain.

    But when you have to deal with the constant threat of being laid off, reduced staffing, pay cuts, public attacks because some council person thinks the FD should be cut, insert other issue caused by local government here, there are times when complaining is the only thing that we can do.

    To make a blanket statement that we shouldn’t complain is just plain naïve. It’s unrealistic to think that we shouldn’t be angry when we get expected to do more with less. I don’t know about you, but after coming home at the end of my shift, the next most important thing is, “Do I have enough money in my pocket to feed my family?” When the answer to that question is problematic, you can be sure that I’m going to be angry about it.

    The United States wasn’t formed by people that just “took it on the chin” and didn’t complain. It is in our DNA. It is the modern management style that makes our Leadership expect us to just keep on being good soldiers while taking away the things that we need to survive.

    I would love to get THE feeling back. The feeling that I had when I joined the fire department at 18. The feelings that I experienced while riding with my father in New York City. Those were different times, those were different people. That world is almost nonexistent at this point. But I still show up to work to do my job because I love my job. I don’t love every aspect of it, but I still love it.

    I read old books, new books, novels, technical books, watch old fire documentaries, take classes to keep learning and to reignite the fire of my passion. But it can only last so long. So what do you suggest?

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