As an instructor, what message are you sending to newly appointed members? Are you setting them up for success? Are you clearly outlining what they have gotten themselves into and how to manage their new careers? Regardless of your rank or whether you are career or volunteer, you have the responsibility to lay out your expectations and pass along the reasons for doing the things you do. In order to assist with this process, I have developed the “Four Pillars of a Successful Recruit.” These pillars are reputation, respect, teamwork and trust. Whether you refer to your newest members as recruits, cadets, probationary firefighters or some other title, you can use these four pillars to get them started in the right direction.
For many of our newest members, this is their first exposure to a paramilitary organization. They don’t realize how much scrutiny they will be subjected to during both recruit school and their careers. In the fire service, a good reputation is the foundation on which a firefighter’s future is built. Wearing a sloppy uniform, acting inappropriately, making offhanded comments or behaving in an unprofessional manner sets our newest members up for problems. It is important for us to make our new members aware of just how much other firefighters are watching and evaluating their actions and behaviors. If you are running a fire academy with several new members, you must also stress the importance of the group’s reputation. Any lapse in behavior or performance reflects poorly on both the new member and the entire class.
While instructors recognize that respect is earned, many younger members do not have considerable life experiences. In some cases, they have been raised with a sense of entitlement and expect respect simply because of who they are and what they have done in their lives, notwithstanding their lack of credibility and experience in the fire service. Explaining the expectation of respect for instructors, officers, each other and the community they serve will go a long way towards minimizing problems during training. Making sure they understand respect is a two-way street is important. We expect respect based on our positions, time on the job and accomplishments. Likewise, the new members should be afforded respect as people who are aspiring to be part of your organization. Instilling a general appreciation for respect will pay large dividends in working relationships and their interactions with the public.
We all know the importance of teamwork in the fire service. Whether crews succeed or fail, they do so as a team. If the outcome is positive, we succeed as a team. If we fail, we collectively fail as a team. Establishing the importance of esprit de corps highlights the need for members to work together to ensure success, and this spirit of teamwork can be forged during training. A successful training philosophy demands that, if one member is struggling, the other new members act as a unit to fortify the success of the individual. Esprit de corps builds relationships and strengthens the commitment for the greater good of the organization and the community.
I save trust for last, not because it is the least important of the four pillars, but because I view it as the most important. In the fire service, trust is everything. I have to be able to trust my partner to be there in a dangerous situation. Firefighters must be able to trust their leaders to make good decisions and the public needs to be able to trust us when they call 911. New members must recognize that they have to earn your trust during training before you can trust them with the public. If we can’t trust a new member to follow orders, wear their uniform correctly, successfully pass their exams or show up on time, how can we trust them with the lives of the people they want to serve?
The list of important concepts to instill in a new firefighter is almost never ending, and I could easily have included other terms such as duty, honor or sacrifice. However, if instructors take the time to express the importance of reputation, respect, teamwork, and trust, our newest members will be given the best foundation for success off on the right foot and the rest will come naturally. The rest will come naturally.