Give Younger Generations Their Due

Chris Mc Loone   Chris Mc Loone

I was part of a couple of conversations recently that revolved around apparatus designs and the different technologies available to us as we spec the rigs we’re going to be using for the next 15 to 20 years – and sometimes longer.

As many of these conversations do, they turned to our younger firefighters and how they operate, how they communicate, and how they learn. As you might expect when older generations are talking about a younger one, the dialog can, at times, become slightly negative. I think the negativity stems from frustration. For example, there is a completely different way of communicating today than even 15 years ago. One person mentioned that the kitchen table at the fire station isn’t the same as it was years ago. It used to be that the kitchen table was where you went to solve problems, to discuss tactics, and to strengthen comradery. It is different now, and for those who came up through the ranks communicating in such a fashion, it can be frustrating figuring out how to transition. But, as we all learn, different is not necessarily bad. I mean, who cares how we communicate as long as we communicate?

As the conversation wore on, we got into apparatus committees and how they are made up. Every fire department is going to assemble truck committees differently than others. Some will only be company officers and chief officers. Hopefully, they all include a member from Fleet to advise about how different designs will impact maintenance and out-of-service time. But we also discussed how critical it is to ensure that younger firefighters are also on these committees – for a couple of reasons.

First, their perspectives are key. We’re building trucks that probably will outlast our time in the fire service. These trucks are for them, and we need to ensure that they are usable for the men and women presently coming up through the ranks. Second, there’s a bit of a gap right now between experienced apparatus specifiers and those who will be taking over. This is the fire service – where senior firefighters “bring up” the rookies and show them the ropes so they will become better firefighters now and excellent senior firefighters later. We should be doing the same for future apparatus purchasing committee members. Be open to what they have to say, and show them the ropes.

This month is FDIC International 2017. In North America, you won’t find a larger showcase of apparatus and equipment. When you make your plans to go as a group, walk the floor with younger firefighters. Watch and listen to them. If it’s appropriate, sure, bring up a story from time to time about how we did it in the old days. But pay attention to what’s getting interest from your 20 and 30 somethings. Mark items down. These are the folks who are going to be using these things years down the line. Most of all, listen to them. Listen to what they are saying to each other about a certain feature and why they think it is so important. Don’t be afraid to ask what they feel will help them do their jobs better.

I am not particularly mechanically inclined – never have been, never will be. It’s not for lack of trying. It’s just not my particular skillset. One comment from these discussions was that the current recruit classes are tech savvy but not mechanical. In many cases, this might be true. But, is it a negative? The way rigs are built today, does it pay to be more mechanical or more tech savvy? As with most things, a good mix of both is optimal, but leaning more toward the tech savvy side may be the way to go. Throw out a problem to a group of veteran firefighters and those from a rookie class, and my hunch is that the rookies will have multiple solutions in seconds – all brought to you buy LTE cell service on their smartphones.

And to our newer readers, be patient with us old guys. I’m only 43, but I’m guessing most of the younger folks in my fire company consider me ancient. And, that’s OK. There’s one thing about the fire service – young or old, we never stop learning. We may get more cantankerous about it, but firefighters are always ready to learn something new.

Generational transfers are seldom easy, and how we treat our younger firefighters today will definitely impact how we are treated on our way out.

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