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Failure in the Fire Service


Everywhere you look today it seems like everyone needs to win.  If your team doesn’t win the championship, it is considered a failure.  From the time we are little kids playing our first game, we know it is good to win.  Even when someone tells us it’s ok if you don’t win, we know deep down its better to win.  We don’t like failure and in the fire service things are no different.

Over a career, there are a lot of ways you can fail.  I have failed more times than I like to admit. From the day you decide you want to be a firefighter, you are going to have some failures.  I took a lot of tests before I got hired.  That means I failed about 20 times before I even got hired.  I participated in multiple promotional testing processes and was only promoted once.  There are also a lot of things I tried to implement throughout my career that failed.  Even though I can easily list all those failures I still consider my career a success.  More failures than successes, but overall pretty successful in my opinion.

There are a lot of firefighters that did not fail as many times as me in their career, mostly because they didn’t try as many things.  Some participate in one or two promotional processes and quit trying.  If you look at those firefighters with the successful side business they will be the ones that tried to get involved in the fire department and didn’t get picked.  Smart guys have lots of energy, but they decided to put their efforts elsewhere.  They use the fire station to rest up for the side job.

There wouldn’t be very many firefighters if we all quit after our first failure on an eligibility test.  We didn’t quit after that first one, we learned what we could do better and we took another test.  Every time you took one of those tests, you probably got a little further in the process and eventually you learned enough from your failures and you got hired.

We need to learn to give ourselves permission to fail.  It really is ok if someone else gets promoted before you, as long as you learned something from the process.  You might have learned that the Chief’s buddy has a better chance of getting promoted, but at the same time you probably learned that the guy with the certifications and the college degree also got promoted.  If you choose not to be the Chief’s buddy, you can still make a decision to get some more education to give yourself a better shot next time. If you didn’t score so good on a certain portion of that promotional exam, get some help in that area.

The only time we really fail is when we quit trying.  Some of the most successful people in the fire service did not get promoted, they just had the opportunity to have the best job in the country.  Don’t be afraid to try, and don’t be afraid to fail.  You learn from your failures and at the end of your career, there isn’t a scorecard to show how many times you failed.  You are the only one that determines if your career was a failure or not.

By John Morse

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