Chief Concerns:Everything We Need To Know, We Should Have Learned at the Fire Academy


It seems so simple but bears constant repeating


I was going through some “stuff” stored in my basement to see what I could get rid of either by recycling or tossing into the trash. I found a box of old books that I was going to donate. One of the books in the box was Robert Fulghum’s “All I Really Need To Know I Learned in Kindergarten”. I can’t remember how we acquired it, but seeing it has been in a box in the basement for a few years, I was going to donate it. Out of curiosity, I read through it again and had a revelation.

Fulghum was correct. We should have learned everything we need to know in kindergarten, and by the same token we should have learned everything about the basics of the job; either at the fire academy, through drills at the fire department or by on the job training.

To paraphrase Fulghum, what we need to know about how to do the job and live at the firehouse with our Brothers and Sisters should have been taught early in our careers. Wisdom does not come by having a wall full of certifications, nor does it come down from the offices of fire chiefs, it comes from the fireground, the apparatus floor, drill school and the firehouse kitchen table; the sacrifices, blood, sweat and tears of past generations of firefighters

Some of the things in Fulghum’s book apply to the fire service; if he wrote a fire service version it would probably go something like this…

Share information. Knowledge is power, but there are those who feel that keeping it “close to the vest” makes them feel important and needed.  If you learn something that makes the job easier and safer, share it at the firehouse before you need it on the fireground, or you may be at a firefighter funeral.

Keep your mouth shut and ears open.  If rumors were snowflakes, every firehouse in the country would be encased in a glacier. Keep in mind that there are two sides to every story, sometimes three or four depending on how many people are involved or how it has become embellished. Some people like to stir the pot to see what rises to the top, and it isn’t always cream.

Listen to others: Not all of the brightest minds in the fire service wear trumpets on their collars or gold badges. Some of the best ideas in the fire service came from the grunts!

Don’t hit people. While we don’t hit people on the fireground, we tend to forget that we can do a great deal of yelling and screaming in criticism of operations, often within the earshot of the public and the media.  Our version of this is praise in public, sold in private. If you have a question about what went on at a call, do the critique in the firehouse, not on the street.

Play fair. Treat everyone equally, and treat people the way you want to be treated.

Trust but verify:  If someone tells you everything is all set, check it for yourself. See the musing below.

Check your PPE, SCBA and equipment early and often: you are the one relying it for protection.

Put things back where you found them. This has always been a pet peeve of many a firefighter, especially when it comes to things like hand tools, keys to the Knox box or radios. If you use something for your duty tour, put it back and the end of the tour. If you borrow something off a reserve piece of apparatus because yours is being tested or repaired, put it back when your equipment comes back.  Nothing is more embarrassing and frustrating than pulling up to a scene to find that vital equipment is not there.

If it is broken or out of service, tag it with the date, the rig it came off of and the problem. Writing the word “broken” in what appears to be hieroglyphics doesn’t get things fixed or replaced properly and in a timely manner.

Clean up your own mess. We are responsible for the station’s housework, and your mother/lover/significant other/wife/husband and/or housekeeper do not work here. If someone is out for a tour of duty, cover their housework duties. It only takes a few minutes.

Clean up your mess, part 2: There are times where one can get into a jam. Deal with the issue at hand, don’t try to pass it off onto someone else. If the matter can’t be resolved at the personal or company level, then you can pass it up the chain of command. Be aware that they have their own issues to contend with and your problem is not on their priority list.

Keep business and personal stuff separate: You may be friends with your company officer and Chiefs, but when the defecation hits the rotating oscillating air movement device, friendship cannot affect the decisions being made or the orders given; it’s business.

Admit when you are wrong: Apologies can go a long way.

 Admit that you don’t know everything: That is what the reference books are for. Trying to baffle someone with bovine scat does not build credibility and makes one look like an ass.

Do the right thing, even it is unpopular. Enough said.

When you go out the door on a run, watch your brothers’ and sisters’ backs and stick together: Crew integrity is important. LODD’s and severe injuries happen when crews become separated.

Be aware of your surroundings: Practice situational awareness. Don’t get trapped by the” moth to the flame” syndrome, you’ll end up getting burned. Remember the first book you learned to read?  See Dick. See Jane. See Dick and Jane look at the big picture and are aware of what is happening!

If you are new to the fire service, heed these simple thoughts. If you are” into the job”, share this with your” not so into the job brethren”.  If you are a crusty old curmudgeon who feels the fire service has lost its way, there is still hope.

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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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