There was a point in time where every young firefighter would read books about legendary men who forged the modern fire service and its traditions. These men were larger than life; living superheroes who braved the nastiest conditions sans air pack or bunker gear to get the job done. As the fire service changed and safety equipment became more common, there was a rift between “old money” and the new generation. Everyone became uber safety conscious and in a typical fire service knee-jerk response, started writing policies that made zero sense…all in the name of safety. This spawned a generation of firefighters who I like to call Billy Badass. They’re like Ricky Rescue’s slightly older cousin, they own a Trans-Am and chain smoke Reds. They act cool, think they’re awesome, and poor little Ricky wants to be just like them.
My issue with most of these people is their complete lack of respect. They act like they are untouchable and know everything. They are worse than a 2/20 – they are a 5/50. They also have no idea how to show respect to others whether it be a line officer or a firefighter. They spend so much time trying to give off a sense of ‘badassery’ that they end up causing two problems. The first is they alienate their coworkers and impressionable rookies who think Mr. Billy BA is a jerk. The second is that they influence impressionable rookies who want to be just like them and think it’s so cool. I have met numerous, outstanding firemen, from Denver, New York, Oakland, Chicago, Tampa, DC, PG, and more who are polite and professional and usually very friendly. Unfortunately, there are still those out there – both career and volunteer – that are so convinced they are superman that everyone else cannot come close to their level. They walk around with a chip on their shoulder and an attitude that they know it all. They also tend to act bored with the job or that they are above the fire service basics. Or perhaps its the person who’s really healthy and into fitness, acting as if they are better than you because they work out 9 days a week and drink protein shakes on the regular. Ever met a volunteer so insecure about being a volunteer that he is a gigantic Billy? Maybe it’s that anti-volunteer career man, “super hooah” IAFF guy who thinks all vollies are worthless and he’s a gift to the fire service. All of these are cancerous to pride.
By this point, everyone should know that when you encounter a problem, you should approach your superior with both the problem and a potential solution. So what are some potential solutions for Billy?
First and foremost, as a leader, you should know your people. Perhaps Billy feels like he is under-appreciated or under-utilized. Sometimes this causes a callous attitude and can be corrected with a sit down with Billy to go over his career goals. Most of the time, these people could use more responsibility and enjoy being challenged. Secondly, as a subordinate, strive to learn from Billy by constantly asking for his help with training. Stroke their ego a bit and cause them to open up. Lastly, do NOT allow Billy to negatively influence your level of professionalism. You must strive to do better, train harder, and improve every day. Your community expects it and deserves it. The easiest thing to remember is that we are ALL on the same team. Our goals are the same – life safety and property preservation. So instead of hating Billy Badass (or becoming him) think about the rest of your team and what you can do to help. When all else fails, stay positive and remember the words of Chief McGrail from Denver FD: “Change happens one retirement at a time.”