Today’s fire service is made up of a multitude of leaders from different ethnic backgrounds, religious beliefs, and generations. The majority of the generations span from “Generation-X” to “Millennials”. These brave men and women bring different lifestyles and experience to the table. Some however share different thoughts about the others. If you listen to different podcasts or read different articles some Gen-Xers believe that the new generation of Millennials have no work ethic and feel that they just want everything giving to them. On the other-hand some Millennials believe that they are more advanced in society and know how to do things better than their older counterparts just because they read it in a book. Even though both groups share different opinions about each other we can all learn a thing or two in our career. That is where another group of people come into play. I am talking about the men and women who grew up with the work ethic of Gen-X but have the skills of today’s modern society. Yes, we do exist, and are called “Xennials” and we are here to Bridge the Gap.
We are the years you forgot about. We grew up watching Saturday morning cartoons as children but now know how to pay our bills online. We are part of a group born from 1977-1985 and are the ones who will really change the fire service.
The fire service now consists of many different types of people and personalities. Some departments have been around for a hundred years, while others less than 30 years. You have Chiefs who have run their departments for the past 40 years and others who have just been promoted. The reason I bring up these comparisons is so the readers out there will understand the gap that is present in the fire service. I belong to a small department in a city of about 10 square miles. We have 34 members of my department; 30 of those are operation guys and four are in administration. We serve a lot of commercial area along with a wide spread of residential. If you are not careful you can drive right through our city on the two-and-a-half mile stretch of interstate 10 heading east or west. We respond to an average of 1600 calls per year. This little department that I call home is growing at an exponential rate, and those of us that work for it are excited to keep up with its growth. On each 24-hour shift you can find a Command Truck, Engine Company, and Truck Company at our Central Station while another Engine Company protects our more rural area. Our working command structure consists of a Shift Commander with the rank of Captain, a Lieutenant who runs the North Station, three Engineers, and five Firefighters. We range from 18 years in service to one year.
I am now on the middle-gap of my career. I have been in the Fire Service for nine years so I am not necessarily the “Senior Man” who has been here the longest or the “Probie”; I am more along the lines of the “Senior Firefighter” on shift. Many men and women like me try to help those ahead of us understand those behind us in our careers. We are the ones assisting those who came before us with putting together presentations, creating spreadsheets for inventory, and doing whatever it takes to keep the “Probie” from really messing something up. Those who are reading this know which role you play.
I remember hearing stories of some of my older co-workers who had to do two-minute drills in coats with buckles instead of zippers and boots that were just the right size. They did not have the luxury of zippers and Velcro and leather boots that fit like tennis shoes. They talked about how when they ran out of air they would just put the elephant trunk in their bunker coat so that they can finish a fire attack because only three people were on shift. They muttered under their breath, “Ahhhh the good old days” but really, we just don’t know how good we have it.
Now to our newer guys and gals - they finish the Academy and all of a sudden think that they should have the top of the line gear and classes should just fall in their laps so that they can “move up the ladder” (no pun intended) in their career to be the Chief. This is not the case. Take it from someone who was the new guy for five years, you have to earn your spot. Our predecessors want you to make your way and work hard just like they did so that you can prove yourself.
So how do we as “Senior Firefighters” prove ourselves to those ahead of us and those behind us… We listen and we train. Due to the growing popularity of fire prevention we just do not get the fires like we did ten to twenty plus years ago. We have to take the stories told around the kitchen table and pair them with the knowledge we get elsewhere like from a Fire Engineering magazine to establish a mental training scenario. We love going to classes. Not too many people out there enjoy going to training. It is just something us fire service Xennials do. We rely on the training we receive from our city, state, or national academy to move us forward then we teach the men and women behind us. Many articles teach of training those who you leave behind. We want to make those ahead of us better along with those we lead. We want to lead by example not authority so that we can leave our mark on our department. We are the ones who look up to our predecessors for guidance then use what they teach us as a tool to make others better. To all those who read this and understand where I am coming from, try to be the one at your department who helps those Gen-Xers pass on what they know to the Millennials by Listening, Training, and Bridging the Gap.