Probie Projects

10 mins read

This is a re-published article I originally wrote for Firehouse Tribune in 2022.

I’m a brand new firefighter. In my volunteer station at the rural edge of a mid-sized city in Ontario, Canada, our crew is about 19 strong. When I first started, I was brought into the station by my captain to have a look around and at my first practice, a good handful of people were really welcoming. Very specifically, I have a feeling of gratitude toward my station and department for taking a chance on me and I’ve used that feeling to measure against the things I’m doing to help out or ‘put back’ into the station what they’re investing into me. There are projects you can choose to take on as a probie that will not only stage your career but help prove your investment.

They are owed for inviting me here.

I believe that’s the right way to think about this, too. The department, the station and the crew you’re assigned to is owed your attention and effort. Past the social graces that you should already be plenty aware of, I’d like to make specific mention of the work you should be focusing on as a new firefighter. 

And how dare I. 

Afterall, I just passed the first year of service to my station. That’s an important note because it means the following ideas are based solely on my experience. You may need to round out some of the talking points here to fit into your particular experience. Still, approaching your new position with the mindset that you are ‘in-service’ to the fire service itself is the right way to act.

That might be a bit bold. A strong statement – especially from the new guy. But from my stance in the back of the truck, these seats are worn in from generations of firefighters that built a foundation that I have the privilege of standing upon. That lineage depends on us to carry it forward. Further than forward, it requires us to build. 

Taking responsibility

My argument is predicated on the idea that you should actively take responsibility for your involvement in the fire service. During our recruit training, I was exposed to a keynote speech from Mike Dugan at FDIC. His word rung through me and continue to help urge me toward the best possible output I can put forward. 

“Are you making a difference? If not, why not?”

Mike Dugan

You are responsible for improving the fire service. That responsibility adds weight to the metaphorical bar, and that’s okay. We should ask for opportunities to add to our sacred craft. 

Assuming the role of a firefighter who is invested in the trade will put you into an uncommon position. Where most people share little concern about their job, firefighters stand apart. We are not most people. 

Accepting the responsibility for making things better will mean there is more work to be done. It will place you into a category of people that ask for more even when the load is heavy to begin with. To accept that burden, a stalwart mindset must match the ability to take on more – make sure you’re prepared to work. 

Build something to learn

Using the word ‘something’ in this context is wildly open. I was lucky enough to be pinned into a station that allowed me to attend the hall to train whenever I wanted. That enabled me to get out there once my family had retired for the night and train things like SCBA donning, knots, medical rehearsal and most importantly learning the trucks. 

When I attended a station practice that would have us stretching a couple lines, I was mightily confused by putting the triple-layer load into real-world practice. Or, specifically, I had a hard time repacking it. I had a good idea behind the principle, but getting all that hose back on the bed gave me a real mental hiccup in the field. I recognized this and knew I had to act. 

I had a few boxes kicking around, but I needed something to emulate a hose. A local craft store had rolls of 2 inch webbing and I figured that would be good enough. I cut a long length into two pieces. After taping one end into the ‘bed’ I rigged up inside the box, I tied a water knot with the other end to connect the two lengths together. In one way, this let me drill the water knot, in another it stood in place as a coupling in my miniature hose so I could practice staging it correctly when packing the hose. 

Attending the station with my staple tea and IFSTA manual, I used this little prop to pack a variety of loads with no stress in a comfortable environment. That process allowed me to really understand the different loads not only from my course manual but from the trucks in our bay. Even as I write this, it would probably be a good idea to mock this up again – just to stay sharp.

Probie project: Learn the trucks

Perhaps your most valuable skill on the first few nights you’re called out will be a rich understanding of your trucks. These rolling tool boxes have all kinds of compartments to tuck in the gear we need to do the job. Though you might not be called upon to operate those devices, you can make yourself an expert in their procurement on the scene. 

For one month, I set about documenting every single compartment – from the glove box to the back step auto-ex gear – on our pumper. It began as a chicken-scratch chart in my station drills notebook.

You have a station drills notebook, don’t you?

Over a few evenings, I had a detailed list of every nook on that truck. Through the course of that activity, I found a few things I’d had no idea were tucked in behind gas cans or flare boxes. A truly valuable exercise in discipline and attention to detail, memorizing your trucks can be a time-saving skill during a call.  

To take this project one step further, you could formalize this process for recruits that follow in your footsteps. To build on the foundation set under your own feet by the firefighters that packed these compartments when the truck first rolled into its spot in the bay. 

Take your handwritten note and type it into a document. Take pictures and label them to make the document easier to follow than a simple list. Print that out and store it in your locker or – if you’re lucky and the station leadership permits – with the rest of the inventory documentation. You can take the digital copy and archive it into a repository, too – because this won’t be the last thing you type up for the station and a digital backup of your hard copy is a great thing to append to an email if a recruit in the future has questions about the truck.

When you accept the call, you are different from the person you were. There are things that need done now – not only because it’s the right thing to do, but because you owe that to the people who set the stage for your career. There is a standard to meet and with it, a weight of responsibility most people can not attend to. You were invited into this uniform because you volunteered.

Showing up isn’t enough.

Bill Dungey is a volunteer firefighter in Ontario, Canada. He is focused on fitness, mindset development and finding training opportunities to help the fire service make things better.

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