In 2005 I started my journey in the fire service, only to be interrupted by a military deployment. Not a complaint, a fact. I loved my time in the Army. In 2007 I returned, finished up my training and officially graduated the fire academy. That night, they handed me a badge.
To me, that badge meant something.
It was something I earned and work hard for. I didn’t take it lightly. I still don’t. That badge didn’t mean that I was now a firefighter, to me it meant I completed the fire academy, and the journey was just beginning.
When I arrived at my first assignment, my observation was confirmed. That badge was only a window into a career that I only thought I knew something about. Three days later at a two-alarm fire in a candy factory, I quickly learned that I was not a firefighter yet, it had only just begun. I had the badge, the shirt, the boots, and the hat, but that didn’t mean shit yet. I had a lot of learning to do and whether I was going to be a firefighter or not was up for grabs.
This career is not for everyone, and I was hoping I had what it took to live up to the expectations of our craft.
After spending a good amount of time downtown in an urban area running a pretty good amount of fire and EMS calls, I felt like I was slowly becoming what I wanted to be when I received my badge, a firefighter. I had been in some bad situations on fires and EMS calls and performed well. I was open to learning when I needed to be taught, and I was learning to be coachable in moments when I thought I had it all figured out. Not that I was perfect by any means, I was just building a foundation for a career that I wanted to retire from some day.
One day, after several years in the fire service, a highly respected Captain in my department and I were having a conversation.
In that conversation he called me a “Good Firefighter.”
For me, that meant something. I didn’t feel like I “arrived” but I did feel like I was accomplishing what I wanted to accomplish in the fire service, becoming a firefighter. I now felt like I had a good foundation of skills that I could continue to build on for the rest of my career. I finally felt like I had “earned” the badge that was given to me graduation night. I felt like I could wear the t-shirt with pride in knowing I was representing the firefighters who had come before me.
Make no mistake, the badge does not make you a firefighter.
The badge is simply a license to career full of learning in the fire service. Firefighters are made on the fire ground, not the academy. There is a reason there is a probationary period, because after the academy this job may not be for you. It’s not for everyone. There is no shame in walking away from something you are not cut out for. However, there is a danger in sticking around in a career simply for a paycheck, knowing you’re not cut out for it, putting yourself and others at risk.
The badge is not what makes us firefighters. In fact, that’s a loaded question. What makes a firefighter a firefighter? I won’t even begin to answer that one, as I think this can be answered within the fire community itself, and I’m sure people will comment below.
You have the badge?
Welcome to the world of fire service learning, hard work, reality, and humility.
Though obtaining the badge is an accomplishment, it entitles you to nothing. This job is about service to the community, not entitlement.
Someone who’s had the badge for a little while and still learning.
This article was written by Joshua Chase of Jump Seat Leadership – Go see his book!