On The Job

It’s more than fires. It’s your attitude.

By Bill Schnaekel

Originally published 15 April 2015.

This article has been in the works for decades, I just didn’t realize it was going to happen until recently. Those of you that know me personally know that I’ve been on the job for over sixteen years. While on duty a few weeks ago, I had a close friend visit the firehouse; he, in turn, had brought his friend. Both were in the process of applying for the position of firefighter in a neighboring jurisdiction. After giving them a tour of the property, the latter of the two asked if our organization was aggressive or if we typically just stood outside and lobbed water in the windows. I couldn’t believe he actually had the audacity to ask me that within the confines of the same government walls he was considering trying to work for.

Although I was quick to correct him, in hindsight, I wish I would have done both him and our department a favor and asked him not to go through the process any further. I was infuriated; after all, I own the place, along with 1,400 of my closest friends. The pride that we feel for our department is limitless.

If you haven’t heard it before, both Mike and I work for two separate, but large organizations in the DC Metro area. I almost feel bad for whoever asks us which of the two departments they should test for because if they think they’ll be good it almost always turns into a tug of war. We’d each tell interested party that the respective one we work for is the best and rightfully so; there is very much a sense of ownership in what we do and who we do it for.

To be honest, if you are attempting to become a career firefighter the answer is really quite simply. You have to do the homework on your own and you need to apply when and where you can. I understand that there are jurisdictions that for whatever reason, you simply cannot try. I was in the same boat nearly two decades ago. But as a firefighter candidate, however, you may not have the right or the luxury to be so selective. After all, there are literally tens of thousands of men and women waiting in line behind you. It would be smart to suggest that you spend your time and money wisely but to those.

All of this was the first thing that came to my mind this morning when I read that someone else was inquiring about whether or not it was worth applying to yet another municipality. The question was asked if I had any connections to a department that five generations of my family have served in and if it would be a good career choice. In his defense, he’s a good man and I’m sure he didn’t know my background. But my immediate thought was that if I had any connections, certainly I would have taken advantage of it with a legacy as big as mine. The City of Erie is a proud fire department and they have every reason to be. I will never be a part of what seven other men in my family were before me. But that doesn’t change the fact that the one I work for is one of the best in the world. Truth be told, even if I had gotten hired by the EFD fair and square, there are those who would say it was only through nepotism. I worked very hard for what I have and I can tell you that I wouldn’t trade places with anyone. The same opportunities that I’ve had throughout my tenure may not have been afforded to me if it were any different. Without a doubt, my department is one of the best in the nation.

The fact of the matter is if you truly want to be a career firefighter, you get in where you can. That doesn’t mean you have to settle; it just means that you will then have room to spread your wings. You make the best of it until you decide that you are content with where you are or you find somewhere or something else. Be forewarned though, if you aren’t happy where you are, many (including me) will ask what you’re doing to make a change either within the organization or within yourself. It’s not because we’re trying to give you a hard time, it’s just because we care and we prefer to associate ourselves we like-minded people who are motivated to take action one way or another.

In any case, remember to be patient and persistent and I’m sure it will pay off. I wish you all the best but if you refuse to lose, you won’t need it.

Photo courtesy of Lloyd Mitchell.

Published by Data Not Drama

Data Not Drama is writings that provide a point of critical thought about firefighter fatality data and education, line of duty deaths, and risk. The main focus is to encourage less risk aversion and better knowledge on the subject of firefighter fatalities in firefighters, fire departments, and fire service organizations.

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