Entitlement, Running People Off, & the Push for Higher Education
In this 3-part-series we will be discussing, or more realistically, I will be ranting about the above topics. You will read this and at the end, you may or may not feel mentally violated.
I used the term entitlement in the heading because I feel it encompasses several things. It seems that nowadays, the constant influx of the “everyone got a ribbon generation” has revealed some new(er) issues. Let’s discuss.
This crop of men and women arrive at the firehouse bright-eyed and bushy-tailed with an eye on a great career; at least most of them anyway. Some are just in it for the paycheck or to say they are a “dragon slayer.” Some just want to give it a try, eventually leaving the business because it’s not for them. We will talk about them later.
Back to our young guns. These folks get into the firehouse and are put on the training track that every other recruit has been placed on. Just like car wax and hair plugs, results may vary. Some of these folks pick up the training quickly, and some are turtle slow. But eventually, the “look what I did with the ladder” and “I washed the rig (poorly) by myself” situations come up, and they expect some sort of reward. They don’t seem to have the mental capacity to understand that they are not special in the fire service. You don’t get a ribbon or a pat on the head every time you do something that you think is worthy of said accolades. It becomes a hard sell to these new boots that this is the regular work that has to be done. I have seen these situations go as far as disciplinary action because the new guy/gal can’t seem to “get with the program.” Often, the new guy or gal claims that they are being picked on or treated unfairly. When the rest of the crew hears the new person claim they are being treated unfairly, they don’t understand why the new guy or gal can’t get it together. Everyone involved feels socially awkward, and it causes tension amongst the crews.
I suppose I should back up and give some background. I am speaking about small and mid-sized departments who don’t do big recruit classes. Rather, they get one to four new people at any given time and have to mentor them through the training process. The large recruit class model has its own dynamics and by its nature, weeds out the lazy (in most cases that are not involved in some sort of political shit-show) and incapable through the course of the recruit “class”. I have never been in that type situation because of where I am in the state and in the country. I have friends that have gone through the recruit class type scenario but again, I don’t have first-hand knowledge so I will leave that subject for other bloggers.
So back to Johnny or Jane new boots again, these kids want and need feedback for everything. They need to know what is expected of them. Unfortunately, they also are searching or waiting the entire time for the “quick fix” or “easy out” solutions because they were spoon-fed everything in their life system. They have a hard time believing that there isn’t a quick solution to some problems or a solution that doesn’t involve someone doing it for them. They want credit for their regular job duties, and when they don’t get the credit, they whine that the crews don’t like them or that they are being treated unfairly.
I am not sure what the solution is to that type of thinking but each situation is different, and they all need to be handled differently to have a positive result. Maybe gold stars are the answer…..or ribbons, perhaps cookies. You have invested a few man hours to get the individual through the application process, so put a little effort into keeping them and training them right. If they do it wrong, then show them a few times exactly how you want it done. If they have been told or shown multiple time and still don’t get it, then move on to the next step of corrective action.
Those recruits who joined up for the steady paycheck become average employees in my experience. They come in, do their job and go home. As much as we would like them to fall head over heels in love with this job and the culture that surrounds it, they just want to make a solid paycheck. Their dad’s told them they had to do something after high school, so they picked this course off the list at the community college. It is not likely that they will ever spend a week at FDIC, wear “I fight what you fear” t-shirts on their off days or work tons of overtime. They are just “making the donuts”. It beats working at the factory.
Watch out for the “dragon slayers”. They have the potential to get people hurt because they think they know more than they do. They cover their ignorance with arrogance and tend to be loose cannons. You can spot them on a fire scene because they are often working alone on an unimportant task or hanging back doing nothing. They have the potential to be good employees if you can harness the energy they use to run their mouths and channel it into doing the work.
We can spend the next year trying to keep those recruits that find out that this job isn’t for them. Retention is the large elephant in the room that needs the most attention. There are some great strategies out there to deal with it but I will leave that discussion for another day. Just remember, a retention plan should start the very second the recruit walks in the door!
Next article, we will talk about “Running People Off.” It is the opposite of retention and seems to be a type of game in some departments.
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So the pitch here is to give them gold stars for doing the daily routine? Aren’t we setting our department up for long term failure with that strategy? While I agree with the premise brought here that this is a problem and with the notion that each situation is different and should be handled as such, I think to keep the morale, tradition, and culture that we have built throughout the years we need to stand firm on the notion that you were a hero the day you signed up, everything after that is just doing your job.
I await the rest of the series of articles eagerly.
During a new firefighters initial phase they should be given constant feedback on their performance. This helps reenforce good habits and correct errors before they become bad habits.
As for quick fixes, isn’t the majority of firefighting about quick fixes? You have an electrical fire, so you shut the power off. You have a leak creating A gas leak, so you secure the gas line to object. These are just two examples of how a quick fix can mitigate a risk.